Transformative change in education often begins with a powerful story. Increasingly, high-impact tutoring is that story, where students find both significant academic success and personal confidence in their abilities. Rhyne Richards—a 6th-grade student in Washington, DC.—met several times each week with a tutor, Ms. Burns, to overcome math challenges. Rhyne’s journey speaks volumes. “I get distracted a lot [in class],” Rhyne admitted. “But when I’m with Ms. Burns, I learn a lot; a lot more than I knew last year.” It’s a testament to the remarkable impact of intensive, one-on-one tutoring. “I’m proud of myself,” Rhyne continued. “Before, I didn’t really know math like I do now. But now I can do it myself. I want to be the smartest person in the world.” Rhyne’s regained confidence in math and optimism for the future epitomize the profound evidence for and influence of intensive, relationship-based, individualized instruction—it is a narrative we must tirelessly work to replicate and scale.
We are in a crucial moment in education to make stories like Rhyne’s commonplace. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare vulnerabilities within our education system, revealing disparities in access to quality learning opportunities. Yet, as crises often do, it also offered a unique chance to address these failings. One silver lining was the substantial investment in our schools aimed at mitigating pandemic disruptions, such as ESSER. Now, with that investment about to disappear with ESSER’s expiration in 2024, we have only a moment to leverage these resources and reallocate continuing funds to make the solution of high-impact tutoring a lasting one.
Tutoring is not a novel concept, but historically, its accessibility is skewed toward high-income students whose families can afford to pay for these services. Many districts and states have used ESSER funds to offer high-impact tutoring in schools so that it can reach all students. ESSER’s looming expiration prompts a crucial question: Should we revert to outdated, inequitable practices with uniform class sizes and rote learning, or should we embrace engaging and accelerated learning that can kindle the spark in every student?
The answer is unequivocal. We must not return to what was. High-impact tutoring, with its potential to ignite academic growth, should be an integral component of our educational landscape. However, sustaining and expanding these efforts requires our education leaders’ adept utilization of available resources. Some states and districts—such as Tennessee, Maryland, and others—are stepping up and have begun to tackle this inequitable disparity with high-impact tutoring investments of their own. More should.
To that end, districts can repurpose funds from less effective programs in order to sustain beneficial high-impact tutoring opportunities and states can invest some of their education funds directly into high-impact tutoring programs. Here are three other accessible, cost-effective ways to ensure the longevity of high-impact tutoring in your district’s schools:
- Partner with a local College or University that can use Federal Work Study Dollars: Tutoring positions can serve as a lifeline for college students seeking part-time employment. Federal Work Study programs can facilitate this by enabling local college students to gain valuable, paid experience while assisting their younger peers. These young tutors provide academic support and serve as relatable role models, while potentially inspiring them to consider a future as educators.
- Integrate High-Impact Tutoring into MTSS: Embedding high-impact tutoring into existing educational frameworks holds immense promise. Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and Response to Intervention (RTI) are established systems used by many states and districts to target appropriate supports for each student. Integrating high-impact tutoring within these frameworks has the potential to improve student outcomes of existing MTSS/RTI systems as well as streamline operations.
- Train Paraprofessionals: Paraprofessionals already working in schools possess the passion and knowledge to make a significant difference in their students’ lives. By providing them with necessary training and resources — funded, for instance, by Title II, Part A dollars — schools can unleash their potential to offer high-impact tutoring to those in need. This approach taps into a wellspring of talent within our school buildings and fosters a sense of community and collaboration.
These options ensure that high-impact tutoring becomes a central pillar of our educational system and significantly enhance academic outcomes for students in need. By investing in tutoring, we pave the way for equity in education, irrespective of students’ socio-economic backgrounds.
We need action. District leaders must harness the resources at their disposal to increase the number of students benefiting from evidence-backed support. This moment is a call to embrace change, prioritize the well-being and academic success of future generations, and seize the opportunity presented by the pandemic’s exposure of flaws in our education system. High-impact tutoring is not a luxury—it’s a necessity. It’s a tool with the power to reshape the trajectory of countless lives.