Here’s what a national tutoring system might look like

Tutoring is 'one of the most effective education interventions ever studied,' expert says
By: | February 23, 2021
The Minnesota Math Corps is seen as a leading model for expanding tutoring to help students recover from COVID learning loss.The Minnesota Math Corps is seen as a leading model for expanding tutoring to help students recover from COVID learning loss.

The recovery from COVID-era learning loss could last awhile for some students and school systems.

To speed the journey, more district leaders are enhancing everyday school instruction with formalized tutoring programs that experts increasingly see as the most effective and equitable way to drive student growth.

“The pandemic has shined a light on the acute needs of millions of public school students who have not been well-served by traditional group instruction, as evidenced by longstanding and large educational opportunity gaps across race and socio-economic lines” says Matthew A. Kraft, at associate professor of education and economics at Brown University who is considered a leading voice on tutoring.

In a new working paper, Kraft and his Brown University colleague co-author Grace Falken called tutoring “one of the most effective education interventions ever studied.”

More from DA: How tutoring can take COVID recovery burden off teachers

“Doing this within the structure of the public school system is a way to democratize and equalize access,” Kraft says. “Failing to do so means that the status quo persists, and the status quo is that if you have the resources, you can afford tutoring in the private market.”

Kraft and other tutoring advocates are now trying to figure out how to offer effective, frequent and individualized instruction at scale for students who most need additional support.

Of course, Kraft has a vision for just such a national system and the large numbers of tutor that would be required. It starts with training AmeriCorps volunteers who’ve graduated college to tutor high school students.

College students could also be hired part-time to tutor middle schoolers, and high school high achievers could tutor elementary school students, Kraft suggests.

District leaders would then have to ensure that tutors are adequately trained. Tutors would also need time to work with teachers to ensure the tutoring curriculum aligns with and supports classroom instruction, Kraft says.

More from DA: 10 ways leaders can solve education’s COVID recovery

Establishing such a system could take some time. But district leaders could jumpstart the process by tapping every adult—from central office administrators to teachers to bus drivers—to mentor a small group of students.

This would give all students a caring adult to check in with, he says.

“We shouldn’t think narrowly about tutoring as only improving core academic skills,” Kraft says. “We need to see this as an opportunity to develop social-emotional learning, and to provide more support to kids who were already experiencing real trauma before the pandemic.”