One key difference: In Portland, licensed teachers are the ones doing the tutoring – as opposed to educational assistants, teacher trainees or volunteers. Teachers have more expertise in reading instruction, and families already trust their school’s teachers, said Darcy Soto, the district’s director of learning acceleration, eliminating the need to build relationships from scratch.
Portland also decided to narrow the focus of the rollout to just third, fourth and fifth grade students, who were in early elementary grades when buildings shut down and came back to school reading like the kindergartners or first and second graders they were in March 2020. Not being able to read means inevitable struggles in every other subject, Soto said, and kids who can’t read are often disruptive in class, hoping, perhaps, that in the resultant hubbub, no one will clock their embarrassment and struggles.
The design of Portland’s tutoring initiative is solid, said Susanna Loeb, a Stanford University professor of education and founder of the National Student Support Accelerator, which is trying to expand access to tutoring.
“Portland is probably doing the right thing by starting small and getting it right,” Loeb said. “Using your own teachers can be effective and easier to implement since the teachers are well versed in what the students should be learning and they likely already know the students.”
Critically, though, structuring the program this way could limit the district’s ability to scale it up, Loeb added. That’s a particular concern given the millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief money that has to be spent or returned by September 2024.