Tutors to Teachers: Could a National Tutoring Corps Help Hard-to-Staff Schools?

We are continuing to work with colleagues to propose to the incoming Biden administration a plan to fund tutors to elementary and secondary schools to work with students who are far behind in reading or math. Today, I wanted to expand on one aspect of our proposal.

As it currently stands, we are proposing that the federal government provide Title I schools with funds to hire tutors, who will be required to have a college degree and experience with children. If this proposal becomes reality, it would include a plan to help schools identify particularly effective tutors and offer them a rapid path to teacher certification.

One assumption behind this part of our proposal is that most tutors will be recent college graduates who do not have teaching certificates, most probably majoring in something other than education. Many of the tutors are sure to discover the joys of teaching. At the same time, school leaders are sure to notice that many of their tutors are doing an exceptional job. Our proposal is simply to facilitate a process in which excellent, successful tutors can become teachers.

There are several important advantages to schools and to society of this new source of teacher candidates. First, tutors would be concentrated in high-poverty inner-city or distant rural Title I schools. Such schools typically have difficulty recruiting top candidates. Often, the top candidates they do get are from the local area, often graduates of the very schools in which they hope to teach. We have noticed that tutor applicants (with college degrees) usually come from the local area.

Second, schools often struggle to find as many minority candidates as they would like. Tutors, in our experience, better represent the demographics of their schools than do teachers. Among the many college-graduate applications we typically get to work in Baltimore, about 80% are Black, and about 80% of hires have also been Black. This matches the percent Black of Baltimore City Public Schools students, but not of its teachers, 40% of whom are Black. If our Baltimore experience is typical, hiring tutors and then encouraging and supporting them to go for a teaching certificate may be one way to bring talented Black teachers into teaching.

We have seen a similar dynamic in majority-Hispanic districts and in rural districts. Local tutors with a strong tie to a local area, who have demonstrated their skills as tutors, may be an ideal group from which to recruit applicants whose commitment to teaching in that place is strong, and likely to be lifelong.

Many years ago, we were working on a study of our Success for All program in Baltimore, and in one inner-city school we noticed an extraordinary Black teacher. We got to know her, and discovered that she grew up near the school she taught in, and attended that very school. As a teacher, she could have chosen to live almost anywhere, but she chose to live in the house she grew up in, in an inner-city neighborhood. This was where she wanted to teach, where she wanted to make her contribution to her community. We’ve encountered many amazing teachers in rural places who are also teaching in the schools they attended. I cannot say exactly how this part of our tutoring plan will be accomplished, or what its effects might be on the teaching staffs of high-poverty schools. But bringing local college graduates into local schools as tutors and then helping the best of them to become teachers would be an important additional outcome of our National Tutoring Corps plan.

Photo credit: Shenandoah University Office of Marketing and Communications, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

This blog was developed with support from Arnold Ventures. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Arnold Ventures.

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3 thoughts on “Tutors to Teachers: Could a National Tutoring Corps Help Hard-to-Staff Schools?

  1. I’m there with you that tutoring needs to be on the education to-do-list. But Title I funding ALSO should be available for STRUCTURED tutoring programs–particularly in the afterschool setting. Why? No. 1, schools have enough to do and can barely squeeze in more time for tutoring. No. 2, teachers often pick up extra money tutoring but don’t use diagnostic and measurement tools to get to the heart of a kid’s problem using a research-based, tutoring curriculum. No. 3, if schools had the answer, we would have seen better results long ago.

    For decades, middle- and upper-income parents have turned to structured tutoring programs like Sylvan to help their children. While it wasn’t pretty when No Child Left Behind allowed those fly-by-night tutoring programs to suck up funding, at least poor children had an option. But there are plenty of 21st Century Afterschool programs already operating that could embed a structured tutoring program to run parallel with their regular activities. In short, there are no magic bullets when it comes to education and why would we do anything less than our best and what’s been proven for poor children.

    What am I basing this on? For four years, we’ve been offering a 4-day-a-week tutoring program embedded in our 21st Century Afterschool and Summer Program. Our results show that students who attend at least nine months have an average Reading Lexile increase of 350 points. Granted, most of them still aren’t on grade level because they start so low. But these are demonstrable results.

    So I agree wholeheartedly about the need for tutoring programs, but I don’t think they should be limited to the same schools that have been struggling for years. Consider opening up the playing field while maintaining high standards and expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ms Burkins,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response to my blog. You bring up some important points.

      I have read reviews of research on after-school programs, including tutoring programs. We have done research ourselves on after-school programs. These were extremely common when the U.S. Department of Education was funding Supplemental Education Service (SES).

      The evidence, from several directions, tells us that after school programs (and also most summer school programs) are not very effective for disadvantaged students. The most important problem is that many students assigned to these programs, or offered a chance to participate, never show up, or they attend irregularly, or they drop out. From a child’s point of view, their friends are all out having fun, while they are stuck in more school. So even the students who do show up are poorly motivated.

      Sylvan and other programs perform a useful service to children and parents in offering tutoring after school. However, these require that parents pay, so families who cannot pay cannot take advantage of the service. Also, if a child stops attending because they refuse to go, that’s just the way it goes. So the students who actually attend consistently are a subset of the number who should receive tutoring. I recognize that sometimes districts contract for Sylvan or other after-school services. Although these services have been around for decades, I am unaware of any rigorous, third-party evaluations that have shown positive impacts for such programs, and this is the conclusion of reviews of research. Also, the outcomes of federal SES programs were very limited, with effect sizes near zero.

      If schools wish to provide after school tutoring for students, or if parents want to pay for such services, there is nothing in our proposal to stop them, and in fact they would still be able to use 21st Century funds, or other resources, to do so, just as they do now. However, we are proposing a substantial increase in the availability of proven tutoring during the school day for the millions of children who are far behind grade level but are unlikely to receive after school tutoring services. The 4 million children we are talking about serving would be about 11% of all students in grades 1-9, so I certainly hope that after-school or other services remain available for students who may be less far behind but still need help.

      Bob Slavin

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s the good news—we really don’t disagree on most points. I agree studies didn’t show 21st Century programs were that effective. I submit that’s because u can’t have bipolar structures that can’t decide if they want to be academic or enrichment based. Concentrate on the academics first by basing funding/outcome results on academic growth. Not how many clubs, socio-emotional lessons, cooking classes, etc., afterschools offer. I agree attendance can be an issue. But based on experience, bribery works. Or put another way, provide attendance incentives that kids actually want and make attendance a key part of parents receiving the afterschool “scholarship.” And I agree wholeheartedly about the need for research-validated, evidence-based curriculums. I just think expecting schools to be the primary source of tutoring is too optimistic given past history and packed school days. I repeat, if we set high standards and requirements, afterschools have the needed infrastructure and would be a great option.

    Liked by 1 person

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