New Study Examines Impacts of Double-Dose Algebra

June 18, 2014
by Doug Gavel

A well-timed and executed intervention with an under-performing math student can produce very substantive and positive results.  That is the finding in a new study co-authored by Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor Joshua Goodman.  "Intensive Math Instruction and Educational Attainment: Long-Run Impacts of Double-Dose Algebra" is published as part of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper series. 

The study examines the impact of so-called "double-dose algebra," in which low-skilled 9th graders in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are assigned to an algebra course that doubled instructional time, altered peer composition and emphasized problem serving skills. 

"CPS hoped that this doubling of instructional time, along with an increased emphasis on problem solving skills and increased instructional support for teachers, would improve algebra passing rates in the short-run and high school graduation rates in the long-run," the authors write. 

The researchers compared the outcomes of students in the double-dose algebra class against those for those similar-performing peers in other classes. 

"We provide evidence of positive and substantial long-run impacts of one particular form of intensive math instruction on credits earned, test scores, high school graduation and college enrollment rates," the authors conclude.  "We show that this intensive math instruction was more successful for students with relatively low reading skills." 

The authors surmise that there are two potential explanations for the results: "First, the intervention’s focus on verbal exposition of mathematical concepts may have been particularly important for poor readers. Second, the intervention may have been more effective for those with poorer underlying math skills," they write. "Either way, these results highlight the importance of carefully targeting such interventions to students most likely to benefit from them." 

Joshua Goodman is assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.  His research interests include labor and public economics, with a particular focus on education policy. His two main strands of research focus on the relationship between financial aid, college choice and degree completion; and the impact of various forms of math education on student achievement, educational attainment and earnings.

Joshua Goodman

Joshua Goodman, assistant professor of public policy

"We provide evidence of positive and substantial long-run impacts of one particular form of intensive math instruction on credits earned, test scores, high school graduation and college enrollment rates," the authors conclude.  "We show that this intensive math instruction was more successful for students with relatively low reading skills."


John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page