SAGA Innovations


Introducing SAGA to the Netherlands


SAGA Innovations


By 2007, Rotterdam was facing an educational crisis. Low-income neighborhoods lacked educational resources that could support an expanding immigrant population. Pendrecht—a neighborhood of Rotterdam with a particularly high immigrant population—was named one of 40 areas in the country that faced significant social and economic problems. And while the government has sought to address the issues, a solution is hard to find

Dr. Bowen Paulle (picture below) was no stranger to communities in crisis. Born and raised in the Bronx, he’d been a student in one of the borough’s troubled schools.  Shortly after his college graduation, he taught in one of the most notoriously problematic high schools in New York City. His three years teaching in the Bronx showed him first-hand how an underserved school operated. In his 2013 book Toxic Schools, he details the overwhelming number of obstacles a teacher faced on a daily basis—student’s apparent lack of interest, constant absenteeism, lack of order in the classroom, insubordination, and many more woes.

By the time the Dutch government began addressing educational problems in the mid-2000s, Dr. Paulle had become a veteran in the education reform arena. He’d earned his doctorate in education from the University of Amsterdam, and had written a successful book on conflict in schools.

What Dr. Paulle  wanted most was to work with an education system that gave him autonomy to run the program the way he knew it worked best–in the SAGA method:  daily, intensive tutoring. Dr. Paulle had previously worked at a troubled school in the Netherlands, and he used that experience as a comparison to his time teaching in the Bronx in Toxic Schools. As the trouble in Pendrecht was being identified by the Dutch government, he was contacted by an organization that wanted help using SAGA’s high-dosage tutoring.

Faraway Mountain is a Dutch philanthropic organization, progressive at heart and organized by a wealthy family looking for original ideas to help strengthen their country’s educational system. They sought to back ideas other charity groups might deem too risky. They had researched SAGA and knew that high dosage tutoring was a success when it was given room to grow. Dr. Paulle—who had lived, studied, and taught in the Netherlands—became the link that bound Faraway Mountain with SAGA.

“This family that ran Faraway Mountain were looking to put together a really progressive organization,” Dr. Paulle says. “We told these people that we’re going to set this thing on fire. We’re going to push. Then we’re going to show this to policy makers and they won’t be able to look away from it.”

Faraway Mountain bought it on principle alone, and in Fall 2015, Dr. Paulle began his three-year project to implement high-dosage tutoring in the Netherlands.  SAGA was hired as the consulting organization, which meant occasional site visits to the Netherlands by SAGA co-founders Alan Safran and Antonio Gutierrez, and a visit by SAGA’s data director Cathryn Cook, and regular phone consultations by Alan and Chris Dupuis, SAGA’s Chief Academic Officer.  Also, SAGA welcomed to its Chicago and NY summer training leaders of the Netherlands program.

Dr. Paulle outlined a research project using test and control groups, and was invited to bring the tutoring intervention  to fifth graders in three separate schools in Pendrecht. Each school selected was located in a low-income area with high populations of non-native students, primarily refugee children. Using a similar model that SAGA uses in its high schools in America, the students were given intensive tutoring four days a week, one hour a day, for the entire school year.

Dr. Paulle was not highly involved with the program at the start, but he kept up with the progress and noticed the program was being slightly watered down. Fearing the same results from previous trials, Bo sprung to action.

“I didn’t have much power in the early phase,” he says. “I could see them watering the classes down too much. I told them to go to Chicago, New York, Match, and see the real thing and ask if you want to water it down and stray.”

The first year was tough. There were challenges for both the students and the teachers adapting to this new program–the two-on-one tutoring style took some time to adjust to, and there were kinks to work through. But all three schools were able to got it done, and at the end of the first year they discovered that the results were strong.

Dr. Paulle ran the randomized control trials. He and his team set their goals high, and according to Dr. Paulle, came up just short of the performance numbers they’d targeted. But when they pooled the data after the second year, they exceeded their goals. It was a sure sign that things were working, once the schools let Dr. Paulle and the SAGA method work the way it was intended.

Once the program began fine-tuning its mechanisms, they found they were hitting the same types of results that SAGA was seeing in their Chicago schools. For Dr. Paulle, this showed that this program could work in challenging environments, and that its application wasn’t bound to one single type of school system—American, Dutch, and beyond. Given the time and space to develop, intensive high dosage tutoring could be successful anywhere.

Using catalytic philanthropy—the concept of starting small and building big—Dr. Paulle’s program in Rotterdam began to expand. In the first year they worked in three elementary schools in Rotterdam. Over the course of a few years, they were able to add the tutoring program to schools in Netherlands and Harlem. The success they were gaining didn’t go unnoticed; the Dutch Department of Education has taken and has since pledged federal funds to help assist in the growth of the program. According to Dr. Paulle, the tutoring in the Netherlands could be self-sustained by 2020.

In Fall 2017, high-intensity tutoring was given a chance to test its effects at another school in the Netherlands. The Mundus Math Project was an experimental high-dosage tutoring program held at Mundus College in Amsterdam. This six-month project went according to plan, and early results from the study show that students undergoing high-dosage math tutoring scored notably higher than their control group. Dr. Paulle partially attributes the strong student/tutor bonds–the same core SAGA principle used in Pendrecht, Chicago, and New York–for the program’s success.

In 2018, the tutoring program expanded to the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands.  Alan Safran and Chris Dupuis did an onsite visit to see the program and to provide coaching to the team there.

Numbers aside, tutoring is having effects on students that go beyond hitting the numbers. Dr. Paulle has witnessed transformation in the students—displaced children from war-torn nations that aren’t only seeking asylum abroad, but also a comfortable new place to call home. High dosage tutoring provides relationships between students and tutors that are founded upon trust and sincerity. The kids want to learn, Dr. Paulle says, and SAGA’s two-on-one style fosters bonds that not only allow the students to learn, but to feel comfortable in a new culture.


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