AmeriCorps Tutors Found to Boost Early Literacy in Minnesota

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 07, 2014 2 min read
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Even volunteers with no education background can give kindergarten and 1st grade students an early literacy boost with one-on-one tutoring, according to a forthcoming randomized-trial evaluation of the nation’s largest statewide AmeriCorps program.

The Minnesota Reading Corps trains, places, and monitors more than 1,100 AmeriCorps volunteers as literacy tutors in more than 650 public and community-based elementary schools and Head Start centers throughout the state. It served more than 30,000 students in the 2012-13 school year, providing one-on-one tutoring in kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Carrie E. Markovitz, a researcher for the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, and Eric Hedberg, a researcher at the University of Chicago, matched 1,540 students according to background characteristics like poverty status and achievement, and then randomly assigned half to receive tutoring through the program in the first semester, with the other half waiting until 16 weeks later.

At the end of the fall semester, kindergarten and 1st grade students who received the tutoring had significantly higher growth in early-literacy skills, as shown in tests of letter-sound frequency and nonsense-word frequency, though there was no significant benefit for students in upper grades. The researchers are continuing to look at the students’ improvements over time, as well as the effectiveness of group tutors used in the preschool version of the program.

“This turned out to be effective with many different students—dual-language learners, students of different races, gender, and poverty” status, Markovitz said during a preview of the study at the Society for Research in Educational Effectiveness conference here Thursday afternoon.

As school districts become increasingly stretched for support resources, the Minnesota Reading Corps, an outgrowth of one of the nation’s most well-established volunteer corps, may provide best practices on ways to grow your own support, the researchers said. Most of the AmeriCorps volunteers had no education or teaching experience, they found, but they received more than 1,000 pages of training materials and were supported with an on-site reading coach at each school, as well as receiving monthly feedback observations on their tutoring technique.

“These results give us a clearer understanding of how to use volunteers effectively,” Markovitz said. “The multi-tiered support structure really benefitted the program, because wherever there was a weakness, there was a support to come in.”

The full study will be released online on March 17 at

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.