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Reviewers Give Experience Corps Study a Pat on the Back

In national education policy circles, you don't hear much about Experience Corps, a national program that recruits older Americans to work with children in disadvantaged elementary schools. A new study review suggests, however, that maybe you should.

Begun in 1995, the nonprofit program now operates in 22 cities across the country. Through the program, trained adults who are 55 or older are paid $100 to $300 a month to spend 15 hours a week tutoring and mentoring children who are struggling in school.

In a randomized study of the program completed last year, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that 3rd graders who participated in the program were more likely than nonparticipating children to improve comprehension and general reading skills over the course of the school year. Now, in its latest "quick review," the What Works Clearinghouse offers its own vote of confidence on the study, calling it a "well-implemented, randomized controlled trial."

If you're not familiar with the federal clearinghouse's quick reviews, these are the reviewers' initial take on whether a single study uses sound methodology. This is different from the clearinghouse's usual, more thorough reviews, which look at all the research evidence on a particular intervention. The idea is to take a relatively recent study that has garnered some media attention and give policymakers some quick guidance on whether the findings seem credible. And, by the WWC's standards, "well-implemented, randomized controlled trial" is high praise.

The Experience Corps review is the third quick review by the the clearinghouse this month. The other reviews focused on a study of I CAN Learn, a computer-aided program for teaching algebra, and a study of an experiment in which self-affirming student essays were successfully used in narrowing achievement gaps between white and African-American middle school students. For a look at the nine quick reviews the clearinghouse published last year, check out this link.

The original Experience Corps study involved 900 students in 23 schools in Boston, New York City, and Port Arthur, Texas. According to the researchers, the average improvement was large enough to move a typical student from the 50th percentile on a standardized reading test to about the 56th percentile.

I wonder if Experience Corps would qualify as "supplemental education service" under the No Child Left Behind law? At between $7 and $20 an hour, it may be less expensive than the private tutoring services with which many persistently failing districts now contract.

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