Why should HEIs consider high-impact tutoring partnerships with K-12 Districts?

What is High-Impact Tutoring?

This Playbook describes how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can effectively partner with K-12 districts and schools to implement a high-impact tutoring program and why it is worthwhile to do so. First, though, we define what high-impact tutoring is and how it differs from other less effective types of tutoring. 

High-impact tutoring is tutoring that has directly demonstrated significant gains in student learning through state-of-the-art research studies or tutoring that has characteristics proven to accelerate student learning. High-impact tutoring responds to students' individual needs and complements their classroom curriculum.

High-impact tutoring programs share certain key model elements:

  • Tutors use high-quality instructional materials in high-frequency sessions (a minimum of 3 times per week, for a minimum of a semester and preferably a full school year), with three or fewer students in each session;
  • Tutors are engaging and reliable, receive ongoing coaching, and are well-trained, including on issues of equity and safety;
  • Tutoring is built into the school day and engages teachers and caregivers;
  • The tutoring program uses data to individualize instruction and continuously improve program design.

You can read more about these key elements — which the National Student Support Accelerator identified after an extensive review of existing research and best practices. The graphic below provides a high-level overview of the four model-specific elements of high-impact tutoring.

Elements of High Impact Tutoring


How does a HEI - District High-impact Tutoring Partnership work?

Successful partnerships between HEIs and Districts can take many forms as long as high-impact tutoring research-backed elements as outlined here are included. Different contexts across HEIs and districts lead to different optimal choices for each partnership. Our research identified three primary partnership models:

  • Recruitment Model - driven by a district or school to recruit tutors for their internally-developed tutoring program. In Recruitment Model partnerships, the district typically designs and operates the tutoring program and partners with the HEI to recruit and sometimes train and coach the tutors. The district gains a steady supply of tutors and the tutors have the opportunity to build skills and explore education as a career.
  • Educator Pipeline Model - driven by the Educator Preparation Program (EPP) of a HEI to provide meaningful classroom experience for their EPP candidates. In Educator Pipeline Model partnerships, the HEI may design the program (including the curriculum), train and coach the tutors while the district identifies the students and organizes the time and space for the program. This approach provides educational benefits for teacher candidates including the development of instructional skills and their knowledge of students and schools. It is also a service that HEI institutions can do for their partner schools, building connections that can help in other aspects of the programs such as for student teaching and supervision.
  • Community Engagement Partnership Model - driven by the desire for both the HEI and the district to form a mutually beneficial partnership. In the Community Engagement Partnership Model, a group within the HEI reaches out to the local district for community engagement purposes or the tutoring program is an outgrowth of an existing community engagement effort between the district and the HEI with the roles of each partner chosen based on strengths and needs.

Potential HEI Benefits of a High-Impact Tutoring Partnership with a K-12 District

Increases Career Exploration Opportunities
For many current HEI students, being a tutor may be their first “real” job. Tutoring is mutually beneficial: the tutors provide support to younger students while gaining early career development for themselves.

HEI students enrolled in teacher preparation programs may gain additional opportunities to deliver rigorous instruction through tutoring and meet their contact or clinical hours. This arrangement can provide significant benefit to participating students, as the real-world experience of high-impact tutoring supports their educational goals and development of professional standards. 

Expands the Teacher Pipeline
HEI students who work as tutors and are not initially enrolled in a teacher preparation program may choose to pursue a teaching career as a result of serving as a tutor.

Boosts College Graduation Rates
Some existing programs report higher graduation rates for students serving as tutors such as this example from Peer Power in Memphis, TN. 

Builds Community Engagement 
Many HEIs have as part of their mission to serve their local community. Tutoring provides a concrete, scalable opportunity to fulfill this mission and engage their students in meaningful work.

Funds Infrastructure
HEIs may apply to be a registered vendor with a school district, enabling them to potentially secure sustainable funding and subsequently build infrastructure for their program.

Increases Research Opportunities
HEIs may have greater opportunities to engage in faculties’ research agendas aligned with the tutoring program.

Potential District Benefits of a High-Impact Tutoring Partnership with a HEI

Increases Student Learning
Rigorous research shows that high-impact tutoring is unusually effective for accelerating student learning. High-impact tutoring improves students’ sense of self-efficacy and growth mindset and fosters a love of learning, which research has demonstrated increases scores in the tutored subject, and even across other classes.

In fact it is more effective than other interventions that have been tested and is effective across grade and content levels.

Improves Educational Equity
High-quality tutoring has long been available to well-resourced students. But low income students and students of color have rarely had access to the kind of intensive tutoring that works. By expanding access through districts and schools, tutoring becomes available to students with greater need and fewer resources. High-impact tutoring also has a track record of closing the achievement gaps between racial groups: in Chicago, for example, a high-impact tutoring program narrowed the Black-White Math test score gap by almost a third in a single year.

Supports School Engagement
Through high-impact tutoring, struggling students build a relationship with a consistent adult who champions their learning success. High-impact tutoring programs have increased school attendance and engagement. 

Boosts Graduation Rates
Early literacy and secondary math are critical predictors of students’ academic and postsecondary outcomes. Students who are on track to read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade and who are able to pass their 9th grade courses (of which math is often the most challenging) are four times more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who do not hit these benchmarks. Either one of these measures is a stronger predictor of high school graduation than race, family income, or standardized test scores; high-impact tutoring can boost them both.

Provides Access to Cutting Edge Instructional Pedagogy 
When universities provide high-impact tutoring programs, university faculty may more easily provide high quality training and coaching to tutors, improving the overall quality of instruction delivered to students. 

Builds College-Going Culture
Students and schools participating in tutoring may have greater access to the local college campus, enabling K-12 students to experience elements of the higher education environment and feel a greater connection to post-secondary education. For older K-12 students, HEI tutors also may provide a positive “near-peer” relationship and empower students to see themselves as future college-goers. 

Creates a Renewable Source of Tutors
HEI tutoring partnerships may provide access to a greater number of part-time tutors in a tight labor market, increasing the number of K-12 students that benefit from tutoring.