Scanning the News on High Dosage Tutoring (Part 1): A Solution to Pandemic Learning Recovery?

“High dosage” tutoring has emerged as a common response, to help support student learning in the wake of pandemic school closures.  Naila Shahid has been scanning the tutoring-related headlines throughout the pandemic, and this week she reports on some of the discussions of the emergence of tutoring initiatives, related research, and support programs. Later this month, Part 2 of this post will describe some of the tutoring initiatives launched in different states and related questions of implementation so far. 

What is high dosage tutoring and why is there a need for it?

Over the past year, a number of news reports have highlighted the expansion of tutoring initiatives across the US and in some cases other countries. Many of these initiatives have emerged specifically to combat fears about pandemic-driven “learning loss.”  Illustrating the interest in tutoring, an EdWeek Research Center survey reported that, on average, about 40% of educators and 45% of parents say their students could benefit from tutoring to address “learning loss,” and 97% of district leaders said that they expected to offer tutoring for this purpose in the 21-22 school year. Those leaders also anticipated that about 1 in 3 students would receive tutoring (equivalent to about 17 million of the 51 million public school students in the US). If that’s the case, the total national expenditure on tutoring this year could reach over 12 billion dollars.  

The tutoring solution, EdWeek Research Center

But what makes these initiatives – often referred to as involving “high dosage” or “high impact” tutoring – different from regular tutoring? According to Kevin Huffman and Janice K. Jackson, high dosage tutoring reflects some basic principles: student groups of four or fewer meeting multiple times a week, with a trained and consistent tutor, with a focus on helping students gain ground academically, improve attendance, and connect with trusted adults for support. Drawing on recent research, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University outlined a set of design principles (related to frequency, personnel, group size, focus, etc.) they argue will help make “high-dosage” tutoring effective.  SmartBrief  also highlights in a FAQ that what they refer to as high-impact tutoring should not be remedial. Instead, it should focus on scaffolding content so students can learn new skills built on their previous knowledge.  A related overview of the research from the Hechinger Report explains that the emphasis on “high-dosage/high impact” tutoring has been influenced by studies suggesting that tutoring is most effective when “the tutors are specially trained and coached and adhere to a detailed curriculum with clear steps on how to work with one or two students at a time. As Jonathan Guryan, an economist at Northwestern University who has studied tutoring programs put it, “it is not once-a-week homework help.” 

What programs have emerged to support tutoring?

Along with the growing interest in tutoring, after the start of the pandemic, a number of organizations and funders have proposed or launched initiatives designed to provide resources, financing, and other supports for new tutoring initiatives. In March 2020, for example, Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform started the National Student Support Accelerator to help give K-12 students access to tutoring. The late Robert Slavin and researchers at John Hopkins University also proposed an Educational Marshal Plan to scale-up tutoring initiatives. Based on the AmeriCorps model, the proposal envisioned using billions of dollars in Title 1 funding to recruit and train 300,000 tutors. Relatedly, the Center for American Progress also proposed an Opportunity and Counseling Corps to consist of high school graduates, college students, and community members to tutor students in high-poverty schools. The model suggests employing up to 17,000 tutors and resident teachers and up to 12,000 social workers, counselors, and school psychologists.

 “A Tutoring Marshall Plan would provide intensive funding to enable Title I schools nationwide to substantially advance the achievement of their students who suffered mightily from COVID-19 closures and related trauma” 

Robert Slavin

More recently, in April 2022, funders like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arnold Ventures, and the Overdeck Family Foundation helped to raise over $65 million dollars to establish Accelerate, which aims to provide district and state education leaders with technical assistance for high dosage tutoring. As part of their plans to help students recover from the pandemic learning loss, the Biden Administration also announced a plan to provide schools with  250,000 tutors, mentors, and coaches. This National Partnership for Student Success aims to bring together school districts, nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions to recruit, train, and support tutors. A search for virtual and technology-based solutions is also underway, including efforts by non-profits and private companies to utilize artificial intelligence to address the challenges of finding enough tutors.

“The majority of students could never afford a private tutor, so we wanted to build a private tutor that mimics all the qualities of a tutor. We can help personalize the attention and assess a student’s knowledge continually.” — Miral Shah, CK-12 quoted in The74

The interest in tutoring as a response to “learning loss” extends beyond the US as well. The UK, for example, announced a £350-million National Tutoring Program even before many plans got underway in the US.  In China, in conjunction with plans to crack down on private tutoring, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education has announced a plan to build an online tutoring platform where primary and middle school teachers can provide tutoring services in various forms, including one-on-one teaching, live-streaming classrooms, and pre-recorded videos. Each semester’s compensation for tutors can be up to 50,000 yuan ($7,880), and the platform is entirely free to use for students. 

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