The settlement would accelerate that pivot in focus to academic interventions for the students who have fallen furthest behind. If California passes the legislation required under the settlement, districts would have to create needs assessments targeting their students performing below grade level in reading and math and those with the highest chronic absenteeism.

“It’s clear states and districts are still working to accelerate learning for students who fell behind during the pandemic as well as overcome stubborn gaps that have persisted over time,” said Nancy Waymack, the director of research partnerships and policy at Stanford’s National Student Support Accelerator, which studies ways to scale up effective learning recovery interventions.

Forty states have spent money on tutoring since the pandemic began, according to a recent review conducted by the National Student Support Accelerator, a Stanford University program that researches tutoring.

That’s added up to a huge investment. Last year, the nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education department heads, estimated that states would spend $700 million of their federal COVID relief dollars to expand tutoring efforts. And local school districts are expected to spend more than $3 billion of their own COVID aid on tutoring, according to an estimate from the Georgetown University think tank FutureEd, based on data compiled by the company Burbio.

Students who participated in Chapter One—a nonprofit tutoring program that serves elementary children in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom—in their first two grades had higher oral-reading fluency and better performance on district reading tests than untutored students, finds a study released this month by the National Student Support Accelerator, which studies ways to scale up effective models for high-intensity tutoring.

Once CEO Matt Pasternack, a former teacher who moved into education technology, acknowledges that’s expensive and labor-intensive. He estimates CMS would have spent $200,000 for this year’s pilot, which involves 400 children. But Stanford’s National Student Support Accelerator, which specializes in research into tutoring, has a grant from Accelerate to cover this year’s costs for participating schools in CMS, Nashville and South Bend, Indiana.

Second, a policy framework that supports the growth of genuinely effective high-dosage tutoring. This means direct funding and flexibility to pay for tutoring, which can cost anywhere from under $1,000 to more than $3,000 per student. Policymakers must also require reporting from school districts on tutoring delivery at the student level. The “dosage” piece of high-dosage tutoring is non-negotiable for getting results, so It is unacceptable to pay for services without knowing and reporting which students received exactly how many tutoring sessions. Additionally, policymakers can put guardrails on which types of tutoring and which specific programs are eligible for public funding. Our partners at the National Student Support Accelerator have created excellent guides correlating research-backed principles with student success. And individual programs continue to produce research showing their own efficacy.

How often does it happen that a national policy priority, robust research, and the aspirations of classroom teachers converge? On an issue with bipartisan support, no less? Not very often.

But tutoring is an exception. As many as 80 percent of school districts and charter school organizations have launched tutoring programs to help students rebound from the pandemic.

The challenge now is to scale tutoring that research says gets the best results―programs with four or fewer students working with the same tutor for at least 30 minutes during the school day, three times a week for at least several months―and sustain it beyond the fast-approaching expiration of schools’ federal pandemic-relief funding.

High-dosage tutoring, sometimes called “high-impact” or “high-intensity” tutoring, is one of the few school-based interventions with demonstrated significant positive effects on math and reading achievement. Yet high-dosage tutoring is a very specific form of tutoring that must meet specific criteria:

  • One-on-one or small-group sessions with no more than four students per tutor
  • Use of high-quality materials that align with classroom content
  • Three tutoring sessions per week—at minimum—each lasting at least 30 minutes
  • Sessions held during school hours
  • Students meeting with the same tutor each session
  • Professionally trained tutors who receive ongoing support and coaching

Small, regular interactions with a reading tutor — about 5 to 7 minutes — are making a big impact on young students’ reading skills, new Stanford University research shows.

First graders in Florida’s Broward County schools who participated in the program, called Chapter One, saw more substantial gains in reading fluency than those who didn’t receive the support, according to the study. They were also 9 percentage points less likely to be considered at risk on a district literacy test.

The first randomized controlled trial of a virtual tutoring program for reading was conducted during the 2022-23 school year at a large charter school network in Texas. Kindergarten, first and second graders received 20 minutes of video tutoring four times a week, from September through May, with an early reading tutoring organization called OnYourMark. Despite the logistical challenges of setting up little children on computers with headphones, the tutored children ended the year with higher DIBELS scores, a measure of reading proficiency for young children, than students who didn’t receive the tutoring. One-to-one video tutoring sometimes produced double the reading gains as video tutoring in pairs, demonstrating a difference between online and in-person tutoring, where larger groups of two and three students can be very effective too. That study was published in October 2023. 

Susanna Loeb is named to the 2024 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, recognizing the 200 university-based scholars who had the biggest influence on educational practice and policy last year.

For the full list and to learn more about the rankings, visit The 2024 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.