Increasing the Reach of Promising Dropout Prevention Programs: Examining the Tradeoffs between Scale and Effectiveness

How can promising education interventions be delivered at scale?

Education interventions for low-income students frequently demonstrate some success on a small scale but fail to achieve success when the program expands. One challenge is providing the same quality of services while moving from a small-scale demonstration project to large-scale implementation. Based on price theory, the investigators argue that when human capital—such as tutors or teachers— is involved, the cost of an intervention may increase because it must compete for an increasingly limited supply of human resources as it grows. This study offers a means of testing this theory. In the context of an intensive tutoring intervention with prior evidence of success, the researchers will estimate the trade-off between cost and quality as a successful intervention scales. The sample will include 24 public high schools from Chicago and New York that are challenged by dropout rates, attendance problems, suspensions, and arrests. Approximately 200 students who perform significantly below grade level in math will be selected from each school; half will receive the intervention. Approximately 2,000 tutors will be recruited, 200 will be interviewed, and 50 will be hired. Tutors typically work six periods during the school day. Tutor quality and student–teacher interactions will be assessed using a structured observation protocol. Test scores, grades, school engagement, and progress towards graduation will be used to assess the intervention’s effect on student outcomes. The rank of the tutor will be used to measure the extent to which quality degrades as the scale of implementation increases.