Highlight Tutoring Among Post-Covid Solutions

I recently saw a summary of the education section of the giant, $1.9 trillion proposed relief bill now before Congress. Like all educators, I was delighted to see the plan to provide $130 billion to help schools re-open safely, and to fund efforts to remedy the learning losses so many students have experienced due to school closures.

However, I was disappointed to see that the draft bill suggests that educators can use whatever approaches they like, and it specifically mentioned summer school and after school programs as examples.

Clearly, the drafters of this legislation have not been reading my blogs! On September 10th I wrote a blog reviewing research on summer school and after school programs as well as tutoring and other approaches. More recently, I’ve been doing further research on these recommendations for schools to help struggling students. I put my latest findings into two tables, one for reading and one for math. These appear below.

As you can see, not all supplemental interventions for struggling students are created equal. Proven tutoring models (ones that were successfully evaluated in rigorous experiments) are far more effective than other strategies. The additional successful strategy is our own Success for All whole-school reform approach (Cheung et al., in press), but Success for All incorporates tutoring as a major component.

However, it is important to note that not all tutoring programs are proven to be effective. Programs that do not provide tutors with structured materials and guidance with extensive professional development and in-class coaching, or use unpaid tutors whose attendance may be sporadic, have not produced the remarkable outcomes typical of other tutoring programs.


As Tables 1 and 2 show, proven tutoring programs produce substantial positive effects on reading and math achievement, and nothing else comes close (see Gersten et al., 2020; Neitzel et al., in press; Nickow et al. 2020; Pellegrini et al., 2021; Wanzek et al., 2016).

Tables 1 and 2 only include results from programs that use teaching assistants, AmeriCorps members (who receive stipends), and unpaid volunteer tutors. I did not include programs that use teachers as tutors, because in the current post-Covid crisis, there is a teacher shortage, so it is unlikely that many certified teachers will serve as tutors. Also, research in both reading and math finds little difference in student outcomes between teachers and teaching assistants or AmeriCorps members, so there is little necessity to hire certified teachers as tutors. Unpaid tutors have not been as effective as paid tutors.

Both one-to-one and one-to-small group tutoring by teaching assistants can be effective. One-to-one is somewhat more effective in reading, on average (Neitzel et al., in press), but in math there is no difference in outcomes between one-to-one and one-to-small group (Pellegrini et al., 2021).

Success for All

Success for All is a whole-school reform approach. A recent review of 17 rigorous studies of Success for All found an effect size of +0.51 for students in the lowest 25% of their grades (Cheung et al., in press). However, such students typically receive one-to-one or one-to-small group tutoring for some time period during grades 1 to 3. Success for All also provides all teachers professional development and materials focusing on phonics in grades K-2 and comprehension in grades 2-6, as well as cooperative learning in all grades, parent support, social-emotional learning instruction, and many other elements. So Success for All is not just a tutoring approach, but tutoring plays a central role for the lowest-achieving students.

Summer School

A recent review of research on summer school by Xie et al. (2020) found few positive effects on reading or math achievement. In reading, there were two major exceptions, but in both cases the students were in grades K to 1, and the instruction involved one-to-small group tutoring in phonics. In math, none of the summer school studies involving low-achieving students found positive effects.

After School

A review of research on after-school instruction in reading and math found near-zero impacts in both subjects (Kidron & Lindsay, 2014).

Extended Day

A remarkable study of extended day instruction was carried out by Figlio et al. (2018). Schools were randomly assigned to receive one hour of additional reading instruction for a year, or to serve as a control group. The outcomes were positive but quite modest (ES=+0.09) considering the considerable expense.


Studies of computer-assisted instruction and other digital approaches have found minimal impacts for struggling students (Neitzel et al., in press; Pellegrini et al., 2021).

Policy Consequences

The evidence is clear that any effort intended to improve the achievement of students struggling in reading or mathematics should make extensive use of proven tutoring programs. Students who have fallen far behind in reading or math need programs known to make a great deal of difference in a modest time period, so struggling students can move toward grade level, where they can profit from ordinary teaching. In our current crisis, it is essential that we follow the evidence to give struggling students the best possible chance of success.


Cheung, A., Xie, C., Zhang, T., Neitzel, A., & Slavin, R. E. (in press). Success for All: A quantitative synthesis of evaluations. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Figlio, D., Holden, K., & Ozek, U. (2018). Do students benefit from longer school days? Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida’s additional hour of literacy instruction. Economics of Education Review, 67, 171-183.

Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Newman-Gonchar, R., Dimino, J., & Jayanthi, M. (2020). Meta-analysis of the impact of reading interventions for students in the primary grades. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 13(2), 401–427.

Kidron, Y., & Lindsay, J. (2014). The effects of increased learning time on student academic and nonacademic outcomes: Findings from a meta‑analytic review (REL 2014-015). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia.

Neitzel, A., Lake, C., Pellegrini, M., & Slavin, R. (in press). A synthesis of quantitative research on programs for struggling readers in elementary schools. Reading Research Quarterly.

Pellegrini, M., Neitzel, A., Lake, C., & Slavin, R. (2021). Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis. AERA Open, 7 (1), 1-29.

Wanzek, J., Vaughn, S., Scammacca, N., Gatlin, B., Walker, M. A., & Capin, P. (2016). Meta-analyses of the effects of tier 2 type reading interventions in grades K-3. Educational Psychology Review, 28(3), 551–576. doi:10.1007/s10648-015-9321-7

Xie, C., Neitzel, A., Cheung, A., & Slavin, R. E. (2020). The effects of summer programs on K-12 students’ reading and mathematics achievement: A meta-analysis. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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

Note: If you would like to subscribe to Robert Slavin’s weekly blogs, just send your email address to thebee@bestevidence.org

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