Mar 31, 2021

How to Step Up our Tutoring Game

Erin Lomax
Learning Recovery: How to Develop and Implement Effective Tutoring Programs

Tutoring is emerging as one of the most promising, effective approaches to help us accelerate student learning during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Years ago when I worked at the U.S. Department of Education, I spent one hour per week volunteering as an afterschool tutor. I loved it. Every Wednesday from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., I worked with a boy named Isaiah on his reading, and we took the time to chat about what else was going on in his life. It was fun. It was meaningful. But it may not have been effective.

The National Comprehensive Center compiled and cultivated resources on how tutoring can spur learning recovery efforts. Despite the best of intentions, research finds that once-a-week volunteer tutors are not the most effective. This type of “feel good, chat-about-your-life, and read a book” tutoring that I once enjoyed is not going to help our students recover what was lost during COVID-19. The question then becomes, “What kind of tutoring will help our students recover what was lost?”
EdResearch for Recovery released a set of Design Principles to develop and implement effective tutoring programs. These principles recommend the following:

  • Provide high-dosage tutoring with multiple sessions per week or intensive, week-long small group programs.
  • Provide adequate training and ongoing support for tutors.
  • Conduct ongoing informal assessment that allows tutors to tailor instruction.
  • Use high-quality instructional materials that are aligned with classroom content.
  • Use either in-person or remote delivery.
  • Maintain a tutor to student ratio of 1:1 to 1:4.
  • Provide tutoring across all K-12 grades, not just at the younger grades.
  • Foster strong, consistent tutor-student relationships.
  • Schedule tutoring sessions during the school day rather than after school or during the summer.
  • Consider implementing whole-school tutoring programs to reduce negative stigma and perceptions of tutoring as punishment.

It’s a heavy lift. Cost estimates to implement an effective national tutoring program range from approximately $5 billion to $7 billion to $66 billion annually. Can we do it? What would lighten our load?

A bipartisan tutoring bill was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill would provide $500 million to school districts and teacher preparation programs to recruit and train pre-service teachers to tutor in high-needs schools. Recent graduates and fully certified teachers who have been laid off due to budget cuts would also be eligible to tutor. While $500 million may be a far cry from even the low estimate of $5 billion for a national tutoring program, it may be a step up for students in our high-need schools.

The National Comprehensive Center continues to explore how tutoring can support learning recovery efforts. We are also expanding this work to explore other learning recovery efforts, such as summer learning, vacation academies, and additional opportunities for extended learning time. We aim to provide timely, useful, and relevant information on learning recovery efforts that can be applied immediately to classroom practice. To view the new tutoring multi-media package, click here.