During a Wednesday webinar hosted by the National Press Foundation, education researchers suggested statewide, potentially federally funded tutoring programs as a solution to the equity gap exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, along with other potential solutions like acceleration academics.
"In-school, small-group tutoring improves outcomes like nothing I’ve ever seen," said Katharine Stevens, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, during the event. She said approximately 12 states have statewide models, and North Carolina and Tennessee are set to launch ones in the coming months.
However, RAND Senior Policy Researcher Julia Kaufman warned students who need the most support often don't take advantage of such programs, or tutoring programs don't closely align with curriculum. "Provide the tutors with training to make sure they know what’s going on with the students," Kaufman said.
Researchers pointed to a national program launched in England as a model for the United States. Stevens said the national government provides the funds and resources, but the schools vet the tutoring companies they want to use.
In June, the Netherlands became the first nation to invest in such a large-scale program by earmarking the equivalent of $277 million for schools to use to support students, according to The Economist. A comparable investment for the U.S. would amount to $5.3 billion because of its larger scale, Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, calculated in a blog post.
States funding tutoring programs are seeing impressive gains, the panelists said. Research has shown Minnesota Reading Corps, which uses AmeriCorps volunteers, was effective for higher-risk students in younger grades regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic standing, and also advanced students up to almost a year.
"Oftentimes with education interventions, the results you get are maybe six weeks [worth of advancement]," said Stevens, noting a year is "really massive gains."
The model could be used for math, researchers said, where preliminary test results show learning has slowed the most during the pandemic.
However, effective tutoring requires in-school, small groups with one or two students per tutor. "I think it’s by far our best bet," Stevens said.