What Post-Pandemic Tutoring Research Tells Us

Tutoring research points to intensive daily tutoring as one of the most effective ways to help academically struggling children catch up. There have been a hundred randomized control trials, but one of the most cited is of a tutoring program in Chicago high schools, where ninth and 10th graders learned an extra year or two of math from a daily dose of tutoring. That’s the kind of result that could offset pandemic learning losses, which have remained devastating and stubborn nearly four years after COVID-19 first erupted. This tutoring evidence, however, was generated before the pandemic, and I was curious about what post-pandemic research says about how tutoring is going now that almost 40% of U.S. public schools say they’re offering high-dosage tutoring and more than one out of 10 students (11%) are receiving it this 2023-24 school year. Here are three lessons that post-pandemic tutoring research teaches us.

1. Timing matters. Scheduling tutoring time during normal school hours and finding classroom space to conduct it are huge challenges for school leaders. The schedule is already packed with other classes, and there aren’t enough empty classrooms. The easiest option is to tack tutoring on to the end of the school day as an after-school program. New Mexico did just that and offered high school students free 45-minute online video sessions three times a week in the evenings and weekends. Only about 500 students signed up out of more than 34,000 who were eligible, according to a June 2023 report from MDRC, an outside research organization. Researchers concluded that after-school tutoring wasn’t a “viable solution for making a sizable and lasting impact.” The state has since switched to scheduling tutoring during the school day. Attendance is spotty, too–many after-school tutoring programs around the country report that even students who sign up don’t attend regularly.

2. There’s a hiring dilemma. The job of tutor is now the fastest-growing position in the K–12 sector, but 40% of schools say they’re struggling to hire tutors. That’s not surprising in a red-hot job market, where many companies say it’s tough to find employees. Tutoring companies are a booming business, and schools are using them because they take away the burden of hiring, training, and supervising tutors. When schools hire tutors directly, they may be more integrated into the school community, but schools often consider them to be “paraprofessionals” and feel there are more urgent duties than tutoring, from substitute teaching and covering lunch duty to assisting teachers. The good news is that students who worked with trained tutors made the same gains in reading as those who were given extra reading help by teachers.

3. More tutoring research is still needed. Bringing armies of tutors into school buildings is a logistical and security nightmare, and online tutoring solves that problem. Many vendors have been trying to mimic the model of successful high-dosage tutoring by scheduling video conferencing sessions many times a week with the same well-trained tutor, who is using a good curriculum with step-by-step methods. But it remains a question whether students are as motivated to work as hard with video tutoring as they are in person. This is why more tutoring research is clearly still needed. It’s unclear whether small, regular doses of video tutoring can be effective, so in-home tutoring is an excellent alternative to this.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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