Student Achievement

6 Takeaways for School Districts to Implement Effective Tutoring

By Catherine Gewertz — April 29, 2022 2 min read
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Tutoring is a strategy many schools are using—or considering—to help students catch up on learning that didn’t happen during the pandemic. It has a strong research base to recommend it, but it can be tough to put into practice effectively. Here are some key takeaways as districts consider starting or scaling up tutoring programs:

Effective tutoring programs have certain key characteristics.

They’re “high-dosage,” or “high-impact,” which means they happen several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. Students work individually or in very small groups—three or four per tutor—and they work with the same tutor throughout the program.

Sessions held during the school day are ideal, but they can also work if they’re held right after school. Tutors should be well-trained, work closely with their tutees’ teachers, be armed with good, standards-aligned instructional materials, and know how to monitor student progress with data.

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Claire Engelhardt tutors students at Northeast High School in McLeansville, N.C., on Oct. 21, 2021.
Claire Engelhardt tutors students at Northeast High School in McLeansville, N.C., last October.
Courtesy of Guilford County Schools

Online tutoring is an option, if it’s done right.

Research emerging from Europe suggests that virtual tutoring can be effective. But it must be designed according to research-based principals, such as working in very small groups, and maintaining a relationship with the same tutor throughout the program.

You don’t have to rely just on your own teachers.

Districts are successfully using a mixture of paraprofessionals, tutors from outside organizations, and high school, college and graduate students alongside their own certified teachers. The Guilford County schools in North Carolina offer an example of this strategy. The district has partnered with two local universities to beef up its tutoring ranks.

Your tutoring program might boost flow into the teacher pipeline.

Some districts, such as Guilford County, hope their tutors will catch the instructional teaching bug and build up the teaching ranks. That would mean that investments in tutoring programs could also double as investments in the teacher pipeline.

Such programs might also diversify the pipeline: Guilford deliberately partnered with a historically Black university to channel more teachers of color into its classrooms, and to reflect the diversity of its student population.

Start small, scale up slowly.

Many districts are trying to implement tutoring programs that are at much larger scales than those researchers have studied. Starting with subsets of students, or specific grades or subject areas, might help districts work out the kinks as they expand.

Build deep roots, not a quick one-off.

Some experts are urging schools to imagine tutoring as far more than a quick fix for students in academic crisis. As a permanent addition to schools’ instructional strategies, tutoring could help schools support and challenge all students.

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