- More than 40% of school districts and charter school organizations plan to fund tutoring and academic coaching using their federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, according to a new report by FutureEd, a nonpartisan think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
- FutureEd estimated that districts have dedicated over $1.7 billion in ESSER III funding to tutoring and coaching so far. FutureEd based the findings on a COVID-19 spending database of more than 3,500 local education agencies compiled by the Burbio data services firm.
- Additionally, FutureEd found 37 state education agencies support tutoring programs in their own ESSER spending plans.
The FutureEd report is important and timely given the difficulty in finding real-time data on how districts are spending their ESSER dollars, particularly on a national scale, said Matthew Kraft, an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University.
“This helps to shine a light on one of the big initiatives of the COVID pandemic recovery efforts, which is to integrate more individualized learning via tutoring and mentoring into the school day,” Kraft said. “We’re seeing that schools are investing in that.”
The report indicates a growing interest in K-12 tutoring to address COVID-related learning loss. During his first State of the Union address in March, even President Joe Biden put a spotlight on the American Rescue Plan’s role to address learning loss through tutoring.
“We can all play a part. Sign up to be a tutor or a mentor,” Biden told the nation.
Phyllis Jordan, the report’s co-author and associate director at FutureEd, said there’s likely even more tutoring in schools than this report found, adding it could be embedded in after-school or summer programs run by districts.
Jordan said she found it interesting that state education departments with strong investments in tutoring saw districts put more of their own ESSER dollars toward tutoring, too.
“If this works, and we see students improve, I think it gives schools more of a template of how they should do it in the future,” Jordan said.
Districts have designated 3.3% on tutoring initiatives out of the $53 billion allotted nationwide in ESSER III funds so far, FutureEd reported. It’s estimated that the portion for tutoring could reach $3.6 billion among districts nationwide by the ESSER spending deadline in 2024.
While education experts agree this report signals promise in further investments in K-12 tutoring, only time will tell if the financial focus on tutoring is doable and worth it. For that reason, Kraft noted it’s important to continue collecting data.
As evidence on tutoring is gathered, he said, researchers should be cautious about how they measure its success. Results can vary by whether they measure students' test data, their social-emotional status or their overall developmental outcome because of benefiting from mentors, Kraft said.
Kraft also added to the voices warning of a fiscal cliff when ESSER money runs out in 2024. If districts do not consider ways to financially support these programs in the long term, he said, the tutoring efforts will be easy to discard once the federal funds run out.
“We have to be having a serious conversation with districts where they may be able to reallocate current expenditures to support tutoring in the long run,” Kraft said. “If we’re not having that conversation, we’re creating a disincentive for districts to create programs that are sustainable.”
But Jordan said there’s still a way to support tutoring beyond the fiscal cliff by using community or outside resources. Maybe not all tutors will be paid, or maybe districts can build a more sustainable peer-to-peer tutoring program using their older students as tutors, she said. Districts can also develop relationships with local colleges to find local tutors, she said.
Still, Jordan recognizes the report looked only at plans to invest in tutoring and said she understands the difficulty districts may have in finding tutors and getting students to participate. Overall, she said, the results have yet to come on K-12 tutoring to address pandemic-era learning loss and its outcomes.