Pandemic Pods for All: Utilizing COVID Relief Funds for High-Dosage Tutoring

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

April 9, 2021

On March 23, ERN hosted “Pandemic Pods for All: Utilizing COVID Relief Funds for High-Dosage Tutoring” a panel discussion focused on how funds from the American Rescue Plan Act can be used to implement HDT programs to combat learning loss and accelerate student learning. 

HDT Research 

Carly Robinson, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, highlighted the strong research base for HDT saying, “as an educational researcher, I’d be hard pressed to name another intervention that has shown to be as effective as tutoring has been… it consistently improves student learning, increas[ing] student learning gains by months or even years.” 

Similarly, Alan Safran, President and Co-Founder of Saga Education, noted that over the 17 years his organization has been providing tutoring for students, numerous studies have found their programs have resulted in as much as two and a half years of extra learning in a single school year, gains in overall GPA, increased math course pass rates and reduced failures, and even improvements in English and history despite only providing math instruction. 

Key Program Components

All four panelists referred, throughout the discussion, to key HDT program components that research indicates are key to producing strong results for students including: 

  • Providing tutoring in groups of four or fewer students; 
  • Providing students access the same tutor throughout the school year;
  • Having a minimum of three sessions per week;
  • Occurring during the school day, rather than after or before school, and acting as a supplement to academic instruction rather than a replacement of such instruction;
  • Using high-quality, trained tutors such as teachers, paraprofessionals, community providers, or other individuals who have received specialized training; 
  • Using high-quality curriculum aligned with state standards; and
  • Making data-driven instructional decisions and using interim assessments to monitor student progress.

New State Action

In addition to discussing the research and program components, our panelists gave us a first look at some the state-level efforts to begin building large-scale tutoring programs. First, Em LeBlanc Cooper, Executive Director of Academic Strategy at the Louisiana Department of Education, outlined her state’s new Accelerate tutoring initiative that aims to provide “equal access, ‘just in time’ tutoring. It’s for PreK through high school in ELA [English language arts] and math, and it focuses on three pillars which are intentional structures, effective instruction and high-quality materials.”  

LDOE has released a guidance document and webinar outlining the program to their system leaders and have since been rolling out additional materials for tutors to use in lessons and other webinars to support teachers in using those resources.

Prateek Dutta, ERN Colorado’s Policy Director, discussed new legislative action on HDT in his state. “This bill was created to incentivize districts to adopt high impact tutoring as one of the interventions they have available to address learning loss and unfinished learning.” Dutta notes that while districts aren’t required to implement HDT, he worked with the bill’s sponsors to structure it in a way that encourages widespread adoption: “We have deliberately made the grant non-competitive, which means that all districts that have the components of high impact tutoring will get funding.” 

The bill has bi-partisan sponsorship in Colorado’s house and senate, and Prateek has been working with Governor Jared Polis as well as the Department of Education to ensure the bill has their support and is aligned with their educational recovery agenda. 

Overcoming Implementation Challenges

Our panel also discussed some of the key implementation challenges—and what they are doing to address them. 

Cooper says that as a former district employee and school leader, she understands that key challenges will be getting the right people in place and making sure tutoring can fit into existing schedules. “So, what we’re doing is launching a ton of support around staffing and scheduling—tons of trainings, hands-on workshops, webinars, and guidance materials, so that after this money [COVID stimulus funding] isn’t here anymore, there are systems and structures in place to carry on tutoring beyond these relief dollars.”

Another key challenge is getting resources to districts will little experience in delivering large-scale tutoring. On that front, Safran provided some exciting news, announcing that Saga Education will be releasing their basic tutor training modules online for free starting May 1 to help jumpstart tutoring programs around the country. Additionally, both Saga and the National Student Support Accelerator (a new initiative from the Annenberg Institute) are planning to provide technical assistance to districts working to implement HDT programs. 

Developing the Teacher Pipeline

As a part of the discussion an important theme that also emerged was the potential impact of HDT on the teacher pipeline. Dutta says that in “specific parts of Colorado there is a teacher shortage, and especially the rural areas. So, we are trying to use this policy as a way to supercharge recruitment efforts: take care of some of the pre-service work and try to incentivize tutor professionals to enter the teaching workforce.”

And Safran notes that Chicago recently hired 37% of new teachers directly from their tutoring staff, saying they were better qualified than those coming out of traditional teacher preparation programs because they have more experience and understand the students and their families. “I think it’s right now it’s an accidental pipeline. It could be built as a deliberate pipeline if there’s a partnership between tutoring and teacher preparation.” And importantly, Safran says, the diversity of the tutoring force is two to three times that of the general teaching force, meaning harnessing tutors as future teachers could also help efforts to diversify the teaching workforce. 

Optimistic Vision

All of the panelists viewed this moment as a key opportunity to take tutoring to scale, if educational leaders around the country harness federal relief funds to make lasting changes to how they deliver instruction. Robinson says, “given the influx of funding and the influx of people out there looking for ways to help, … I think there’s a real opportunity at this moment to get tutoring up off the ground in a way that it lasts.”

Nicholas Munyan-Penney is a policy analyst for Education Reform Now.