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Saga Education: Scaling Evidence-Based and Equity-Focused Tutoring

By Alex Cortez, Managing Partner

As society and education systems emerge from COVID-19, we have never faced a greater crisis in education equity and also employment equity. Thankfully, there are social entrepreneurs with solutions that center equity and address gaps in learning through innovative approaches that also provide employment opportunities.

Saga Education, a recent addition to the New Profit family of grantee-partners, is boldly innovating to meet the needs of this moment, building equity in education and employment through a model of personalized, evidence-based, and relationship-driven math tutoring to ninth grade Algebra I students in need of support.

Algebra I is a critical gatekeeper to success in education. In 2010, a national U.S. Department of Education study found that 80 percent of high school dropouts cited their inability to pass Algebra I as the primary reason for leaving school. 

“Less than half of the students (43%) who failed Algebra I in ninth grade recovered the course credit by their fourth year of high school. 21% of students who never passed Algebra I graduated on time. Students who never passed Algebra I, however, fell well short of the required six math semester courses, and only 9% had enough credits to meet the math graduation requirement. 65% of early and late credit recovery students had enough credits to meet the math graduation requirement.” Your odds are 1 in 5 if you fail it in 9th grade and never recover credits.

"Less than half of the students (43%) who failed Algebra I in ninth grade recovered the course credit by their fourth year of high school. 21% of students who never passed Algebra I graduated on time. Students who never passed Algebra I, however, fell well short of the required six math semester courses, and only 9% had enough credits to meet the math graduation requirement. 65% of early and late credit recovery students had enough credits to meet the math graduation requirement."

With this knowledge, Saga tutoring occurs five days a week and is embedded in the school day, aligning tutoring content with the scope and sequence of what teachers cover in the classroom.  Saga employs full-time tutors who are intensively screened, receive significant training and ongoing coaching, and are able to use adaptive math content to support students in small group, customized sessions.

This month, the University of Chicago’s Education Lab released a new report on a randomized control trial (RCT) of Saga’s tutoring efforts, demonstrating up to 2.5 years of additional math achievement in ninth grade that then carried through to continued higher achievement in math and non-math subjects throughout high school.

In addition to the direct impact of Saga-provided tutors, we are also excited about Saga’s commitment to meet the needs of the post-COVID moment by expanding its strategy to create widespread impact and policy impact.

Saga is pursuing three concurrent widespread impact strategies to build the tutoring capacity of schools and nonprofit partners. First, Saga is launching an open education resource called Saga Coach, which is a self-paced training platform that includes core lessons around relationships, rigor and ratio to serve the emerging market of tutors across all subjects and grades. Second, Saga will expand its widespread impact via Saga Connect, a virtual tutoring platform that reduces barriers to participation in tutoring not only for students in situations that require physical distancing, but also for more adults to be able to serve as tutors irrespective of where they live. Third, Saga is amplifying its widespread impact by growing its consulting practice to transfer key knowledge on the design and management of tutoring programs to a growing set of partners.

In addition to its direct and widespread impact, Saga is building out its capacity to engage in effective policy advocacy, recognizing the importance of being able to leverage its proximity to, and understanding of, communities and schools to influence policies that can best support post-COVID learning recovery.

We believe the ability of social innovations to work across all three impact strategies – direct, widespread and policy – will be transformative, and we are excited to learn alongside Saga as they build out their mutually reinforcing work across all three.