9 tips for launching tutoring programs in your district

A new compilation of case studies reveals the challenges districts of all sizes faced when implementing tutoring initiatives. One recommendation: Take it slow.

Since the height of the pandemic, K12 schools have looked everywhere for answers surrounding successful, data-driven tutoring programs. Thankfully, pioneering districts shared some of their key takeaways from their tutoring programs in an effort to help other leaders.

A new collection of case studies on tutoring programs from the Center for Education Market Dynamics showcases the experiences of nine school districts and their process of implementing tutoring initiatives. The authors note that the report isn’t a spotlight of the “best” tutoring programs in the country, yet it’s an opportunity “to illuminate core lessons learned by people on the ground, for the benefit of others in their shoes,” the report reads.

The districts chosen for the study vary dramatically in size from New York City Public Schools’ more than one million students to Lenoir City Schools, which is home to a mere 2,517 students across four schools.

What’s made evident through the report is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to tutoring. Each district has implemented its own style to meet the specific needs of its students. Different modes of tutoring include high-impact, on-demand, peer-to-peer and others.

“Growing and strengthening these programs was not just about adding more tutoring hours,” the report reads,” but also about recognizing the need for new processes and tools as programs grow.”

Each district had the opportunity to share its most valuable takeaways from its tutoring initiatives. Leaders were asked to respond to the question, “Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?” Here’s what they said:

Baltimore City Public Schools: Invest in a team that will manage and implement your tutoring program.

  • Matt Barrow, coordinator of Academic Tutoring highlighted the impact of having various roles as districts’ tutoring initiatives grow.
  • “This work has many layers that require careful design and strategic planning, effective resource management and consistent and frequent support provided directly to schools that require more than one individual to manage effectively,” he said.

Chicago Public Schools: Prioritize attendance.

  • District leadership noted that the single-most significant inhibitor of student achievement was poor school attendance, “not just for the tutoring period, but for regular classroom instruction,” the report reads.
  • Data revealed a positive relationship between regular student attendance and positive tutoring effects.

Clayton County Public Schools: Look for ways to promote regular student engagement with the program, no matter the flexibility of the model

  •  A majority of the district’s students have participated in virtual tutoring, but they had hoped to see greater attendance numbers this school year. In response, the district enlisted school leaders and teachers to ensure that students who needed tutoring the most engaged with it through methods like in-school tutoring hours.

Denver Public Schools: Communicate the importance of scheduling tutoring at the beginning of the year as part of the master schedule.

  • Leaders noted that when tutoring was strategically scheduled during the school day within predictable periods each week, it served greater benefit for everyone who participated.

Ector County Independent School District: Implement a “slow rollout.”

  • When the district launched its tutoring program in the fall of 2022, initiatives were incorporated one campus at a time starting with the “highest-needs campuses.” Each launch had a district-level team to help support logistics and technology.

Guilford County Schools: Leverage technology to track program data.

  • “Our tutor database is a spreadsheet with seven hundred individuals,” said Director of Tutoring Kara Hamilton, which makes tracking and analyzing program data rather difficult. In response, the district transitioned to a more centralized database that keeps all program data in one place.

Lenoir City Schools: For districts running an “internal program,” take it slow and plan early.

  • Shannon Tufts, a district-wide literacy instructional coach, described her challenges in rolling out the district’s tutoring initiative in the fall of 2021.
  • “I scheduled and planned it out, all the details, October to Christmas,” she said. “Then two weeks in, we found that the routine wasn’t working.”
  • She decided this year to plan only an initial, four-week period of tutoring sessions. After those four weeks, she scheduled check-ins with tutors and teachers to create an appropriate course for the next four weeks.

New York City Public Schools: Understand the labor intensiveness and expense of the tutoring initiative going in.

  • “There’s such a need for that hands-on case management,” said Andrew Fletcher, director of strategic partnerships. “You need a good number of staff to deal with all the particulars—not to mention tutors who are well-trained, whose training continues, and folks to observe, coach and make sure the fidelity is there so we get the outcomes.”

Orange County Public Schools: Reimagine challenges as opportunities.

  • At the beginning, the district was not prepared for the overwhelming participance of students wanting to serve as peer tutors. Leaders identified creative solutions to utilize peer tutors, especially as teacher shortages persist. The district even hires graduated students as college-aged tutors.
  • “Students are eager to help,” said Kate Demory, a district resource teacher. “They just need the opportunity.”
Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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