How tutoring can take COVID recovery burden off teachers

Tutoring seen as a “game changer” in providing students with more personalized support
By: | February 18, 2021
A Minnesota Reading Corps tutor works with an elementary school student pre-COVID.A Minnesota Reading Corps tutor works with an elementary school student pre-COVID.

COVID learning loss will further tax teachers who, even pre-pandemic and particularly in under-resourced districts, faced challenges in supporting all learners adequately, experts say.

A well-integrated tutoring program would take pressure off teachers to repair COVID’s disruptions on their own, says Katharine B. Stevens, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Teachers are coming back to extremely difficult jobs,”says Stevens, who recently posted a blog titled “We need a national tutoring program to avert educational catastrophe.”

“We cannot expect them to be miracle workers and put the pieces back together on their own in their classrooms with their doors shut,” she says.

England’s robust tutoring model

Tutoring can be a “game changer” in providing students with more personalized support in one-on-one or small group sessions. As a model, she points to the National Tutoring Programme recently launched in England.

Schools in the U.K. can now access subsidized tutoring from a list of pre-screened providers, known as “Tuition Partners,” who offer individualized instruction to children virtually and in person.

The program also places trained college graduates of all ages in schools as full-time “Academic Mentors” who work with students one-on-one and in small-group instruction in schools serving the most disadvantaged children.

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The U.S. could tap the private tutoring and programs like AmeriCorps to create a national tutoring program.

The Minnesota Reading Corps, for instance, already places full-time AmeriCorps tutors in low-performing elementary schools in 12 states and D.C. And the organization has launched a Math Corps that now operates in five states.

Keys to the Reading and Math Corps initiatives are training tutors rigorously and regularly to work with a school’s educators to support classroom instruction, says Anne Sinclair, the Reading Corps’ chief learning officer.

The organization deploys tutors for free but asks schools to provide a district coach to help develop caseloads of students and fit tutoring sessions into the building schedule. Tutoring regimens will also align with a school’s Response to Intervention of Multi-Tiered System of Supports intervention programs, Sinclair says.

The tutors embed into classrooms, and meet with students daily or a few times a week depending on the subject and age-level.

Randomized control trials conducted over the past several years have shown that Reading and Math Corps students outperform classmates who have not receiving tutoring, Sinclair says.

COVID has enabled the organization to reach more students, including in rural areas where Reading and Math Corps tutors may not be available through the local school district, she says

“It’s going to take many different kinds of efforts to improve outcomes after COVID,” Sinclair says. “We’re one way to reach kids who may need a boost in literacy and math.”

Another educator in the classroom

Administrators should recognize the tutoring requires a different set of skills than classroom teaching, adds Stevens.

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People who don’t feel comfortable in front of a room full of children may excel at working with students on-on-one or in small groups.

And many teachers “stressed and exhausted” from the COVID experience would likely appreciate having another adult in class to connect with children during the pandemic recovery, Stevens says.

“It seems unlikely that many children are going to get back on their feet without feeling like there’s somebody on their side,” she says. “Whatever gaps there were before COVID, they’ve only gotten bigger, and we don’t yet know the emotional struggles we can expect.”