The academic impact of volunteer tutoring in urban public elementary schools: Results of an experimental design evaluation

Gary William Ritter, University of Pennsylvania


As a nation, we are struggling to identify means of preventing early academic performance problems, particularly in reading and mathematics. In various forms, academically-focused tutoring programs for young children are being promoted widely as promising strategies for improving academic performance. There is a body of evidence showing the benefits of tutoring provided by certified, paid professionals. However, similar evidence does not exist for tutoring programs employing adult volunteers or college students as tutors. This dissertation presents the results of an experimental-design study measuring the impacts on student outcomes of a major university-public school partnership that provides volunteer tutoring services for young students in inner-city elementary schools. The two primary hypotheses are: (1) Tutoring will lead to significantly improved academic outcomes as measured by academic grades and standardized test scores; and (2) Tutoring will lead to significant benefits in terms of student self-perception of academic ability, student motivation, and school attendance. The study sample is comprised of 385 elementary school students identified by their teachers as in need of tutoring services. From this pool of "eligible" students, approximately half (51 percent) were randomly selected to work with college-age tutors. The remaining students served as a study control group. Regression analysis was used to analyze the effectiveness of the tutoring and the impact of factors other than tutoring on several outcomes of interest related to academic performance, self-confidence, and motivation. There are two key findings from this study. First of all, the review of the research literature underscores how little we know about what, if anything, "works" in the way of volunteer tutoring to improve student outcomes. Second, the experimental-design study revealed no evidence that participation in the tutoring program during the 1998-99 academic year resulted in any measurable academic benefits for the tutees. The findings suggest that this type of intervention may not improve measurable academic outcomes in the short run. This study should serve to caution policymakers who believe that increasing volunteerism in schools will result in important academic benefits for low-income children in urban areas.

Subject Area

Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Ritter, Gary William, "The academic impact of volunteer tutoring in urban public elementary schools: Results of an experimental design evaluation" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9965556.