Covid-19-induced school closures generated great interest in tutoring as a strategy to make up for lost learning time. Tutoring is backed by a rigorous body of research, but it is unclear whether it can be delivered effectively remotely. We study the effect of teacher-student phone call interventions in Kenya when schools were closed. Schools (n=105) were randomly assigned for their 3rd, 5th and 6th graders (n=8,319) to receive one of two versions of a 7-week weekly math-focused intervention—5-minute accountability checks or 15-minute mini-tutoring sessions—or to the control group. Although calls increased student perceptions that teachers cared, accountability checks had no effect on math performance up to four months after the intervention and tutoring decreased math achievement among students who returned to their schools after reopening. This was, in part, because the relatively low-achieving students most likely to benefit from calls were least likely to return and take in-person assessments. Tutoring substituted away from more productive uses of time, at least among returning students. Neither intervention affected enrollment. Tutoring remains a valuable tool but to avoid unintended consequences, careful attention should be paid to aligning tutoring interventions with best practices and targeting interventions to those who will benefit most.
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