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A Team Effort: How Parents, Caregivers, and Communities Can Help Tutoring Succeed

When district leaders implemented tutoring programs, logistics were of course considered. Less talked about but perhaps as important to their success was how to engage parents, caregivers, and communities. Learn why district leaders created systems of support for successful K-12 tutoring programs, from iteration to execution.

The Center for Education Market Dynamics • July 27, 2023

When considering best practices for building a K-12 tutoring program, answering logistical questions can be a natural starting point:

  • Which students will the program serve and how will they be selected?
  • What tutoring delivery method will work best for the district?
  • Will they hire tutors internally or select an external provider?

While these details are all critically important to a program’s success, it is equally important that district leaders anchor such practical considerations within a framework that seeks to answer big picture questions first:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What do we hope to accomplish?

Key to this process is involving and seeking feedback from families, caregivers, and community members every step of the way, from program iteration to execution. After all, who is going to be more invested in a program’s success than the community it’s serving? Here are some highlights from district leaders across the United States about how family and community engagement supported their tutoring programs:

Engaged Families Support Student Attendance

If students don’t attend tutoring sessions, they won’t benefit from them.

While this statement may seem apparent, speaking to district leaders across the United States, the Center for Education Market Dynamics (CEMD) heard variations of this same message repeatedly. That is, one of the key ways they ensured their tutoring program’s success was by getting students to go––an outcome many district leaders attribute to open lines of communication with parents and caregivers.

For programs that operate virtually or after school hours, this is particularly important.
In New York City, for example, the K-2 tutoring program launched in fall 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and was virtual by necessity. As such, it relied on families to reach students by whatever means possible: CUNY tutors Zoomed into students’ homes at their families’ convenience throughout the week and depended heavily on families’ efforts to get students to attend and engage.

Similarly, communication with parents about why their students were in tutoring helped support attendance in Lenoir City, Tennessee. Through family engagement, leaders in the district worked to change the narrative around the “type” of students that need tutoring, emphasizing that a child could be an excellent student and still have experienced a setback during the pandemic. Another aspect of messaging to families involved differentiating high-impact tutoring from remediation, as district leaders emphasized that tutoring aligns with grade-level curriculum.

Parental Input Helps Program Leaders Make Improvements

District leaders also underscored that as key stakeholders in their children’s academic success, parents and caregivers can offer valuable insights into what is and isn’t working with tutoring, helping programs improve.

In Orange County, Florida, for example, being adaptive to student and family needs is a cornerstone of the district’s implementation strategy. Thanks to family feedback, which the district seeks out regularly, as well as feedback from students and peer tutors, the district learned that reminder emails about tutoring were often missed or overlooked. This led program leaders to adjust their communications strategy, implementing a text message system that sent reminders to students and families on the morning of tutoring sessions. In general, consistent engagement with families, students, and tutors has enabled Orange County district leaders to make in-the-moment improvements to its program implementation, creating a better experience for everyone involved.

Parents and Caregivers Know Their Kids’ Needs

Most K-12 districts target students for tutoring based on specific criteria (i.e. state exam proficiency), but some districts have found that using parent requests for tutoring instead of, or in addition to, selecting students themselves is an effective way to promote engagement.

In Guilford County, North Carolina, for instance, parents can request on-demand, virtual tutoring sessions for their children at any time for grades 3-12 math and ELA support (note that this is distinct from the district’s high-dosage tutoring program). Similarly, in Orange County, parents and caregivers––along with students themselves––can request peer tutoring through an online system.

In both cases, by empowering families to request tutoring to address their children’s academic needs, these districts are reaching a broader range of students, including those who might otherwise be overlooked for tutoring, but could benefit from specific interventions, thus driving greater impact.

Building Community Connections, Programs Can Transcend Academics

Family and community engagement can be incredibly powerful, not just for driving academic achievement, but also for creating the kind of impact that can’t easily be measured with numbers and figures—but is just as vital to a tutoring program’s success.

Recognizing the importance of tutors who understand the local context, for instance, in Guilford County, where the district drew its tutor base from area high schools and colleges. This included students at nearby North Carolina A&T State University, one of the largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the nation, and members of the North Carolina Education Corps.

What began as an academic support program quickly became so much more, said program leader, Dr. Faith Freeman, emphasizing how powerful it is for students to see themselves reflected in their tutors.

“We’re impacting kids academically,” Freeman said, “but we’re also having our [tutors serve] as mentors to a lot of these students.”

Want to read more about key takeaways on tutoring implementation from K-12 district leaders who have already done it? Be sure to check out Leading for Action: An Insight Report on K-12 Tutoring Programs, an insight report by CEMD highlighting successful K-12 tutoring programs across the nation.

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