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Why Tutoring? Why Now?: Exploring the Urgency and Impact of Tutoring

The Center for Education Market Dynamics reflects on past conversations with district leaders across the country about their successful tutoring programs. Explore the pressing need and transformative impact of high-dosage tutoring on student learning outcomes.

The Center for Education Market Dynamics • June 09, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic may be over, but the repercussions of disrupted student learning continue to reverberate across the country as K-12 districts and schools struggle to make up for lost classroom time. According to the most recent Nation’s Report Card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), students in the United States are estimated to be anywhere from four weeks to a full school year behind grade level, and preexisting achievement gaps impacting historically marginalized students have widened. A McKinsey & Company analysis of the NAEP emphasized that, “if student performance improvement follows historical pre-pandemic trends, it could take decades for students to fully catch up.”

Despite unprecedented levels of learning loss, there are some bright spots as school districts across the country lead efforts to support student growth. Tutoring has been an essential tool in their recovery toolbox, offering districts an evidence-based strategy to help students get back on track and make use of remaining ESSER funds. “Within education, there are no such things as silver bullets, but in terms of things we consider to be a pretty sure bet, tutoring…is grounded in high-quality, rigorous research and has been shown to help improve student learning outcomes,” shared Vincent Quan, the Co-Executive Director of J-PAL North America, reflecting on an analysis of randomized controlled trials. “The average student that participated in a tutoring program gained an additional year of learning,” Quan emphasized.

Speaking to district leaders across the country, the Center for Education Market Dynamics (CEMD) heard similar reflections about the transformative impact of tutoring on student learning outcomes. Here are some highlights:

Guilford County Schools

In Guilford County, North Carolina, Guilford County Schools (GCS) launched its high-dosage tutoring program with just five tutors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as the district grappled with learning loss. As pre-existing achievement gaps widened, GCS leaders recognized the urgency of supporting struggling students, particularly those in the bottom 20 percent of their grades. Now 600 tutors and 6,000 students strong, the program has drawn widespread acclaim for its rapid growth and success rooted in strategic partnerships and research-based practices. And, the initiative’s impact touches many aspects of the student experience, from learning outcomes to social-emotional health. “We’re impacting kids academically, but we’re also having our [tutors serve] as mentors to a lot of these students,” shared Dr. Faith Freeman, who spearheaded the program in her prior role as the GCS Director of STEM.

New York City Public Schools

New York City Public Schools (NYCPS), in partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY), launched the CUNY Reading Corps, an early literacy, high-dosage tutoring initiative, in the fall of 2020. The initiative began as a pandemic emergency measure, both to offer early literacy support to New York City students in acute need, and to help CUNY pre-service teachers gain field experience. The program, which uses two evidence-based curricula, Reading Rescue and Reading Ready, has already been impactful. Program leaders have found that participating students improve, on average, one full intervention reading level for every 10 tutoring sessions. With such promising results, NYCPS is looking to expand its high-dosage tutoring offerings. “Tutoring is becoming a system-wide acceleration strategy,” said Dr. Katie Pace Miles, Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education at Brooklyn College.

Clayton County Public Schools

Clayton County Public Schools (CCPS), a large Georgia school district just south of metro Atlanta, launched its on-demand tutoring program in a moment of urgency: during its period of pandemic-induced at-home learning. “We knew that we needed to put something in place, something to counter the learning loss,” shared Angela Hutton, CCPS’s Intervention Lead. The 15-school pilot prioritized CCPS schools that were struggling most, and by the end of the year it was regarded as a great success based on the number of students reached and their responses. This energized the district to scale the program to all 68 of its schools in 2021-22, giving all students in the district access to on-demand help with any subject, at any time. During the first year of district-wide implementation, about 90% of all CCPS students used tutoring services at some point, Hutton noted, and 99% of student survey responses indicated that the session had meaningfully helped them with the subject-specific help they requested.

Want to learn more about the decision points and lessons learned from K-12 district leaders? Be sure to check out Leading for Action: An Insight Report on K-12 Tutoring Programs, an insight report by CEMD, highlighting districts across the nation that have established successful K-12 tutoring programs.

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