Student Achievement

Clearing the Hurdles to Effective School Tutoring Programs

By Evie Blad — March 14, 2023 3 min read
A woman points at a line on a work sheet while a male student watches.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While tutoring programs can be a key component of schools’ academic recovery efforts, the scale of students’ needs demand strategies that are carefully designed to meet the challenge, panelists said at an Education Week virtual event.

“Things were unequal before the pandemic, but they’ve become much more unequal post-pandemic,” said Thomas Kane, an economist and the faculty director of the Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research. “It’s up to us to try to close those gaps over the next few years.”

Kane spoke at Education Week’s March 8 edition of a Seat at the Table, a live web video series, alongside host Peter DeWitt, University of California Los Angeles education professor Tyrone Howard, and Cristal Moore, a Los Angeles elementary school principal who has experience putting academic recovery efforts into place.

While tutoring is a frequently mentioned recovery strategy, logistical and design hurdles are making some schools’ efforts ineffective, speakers said.

Here are three key issues they identified.

Tutoring programs don’t always attract students with the most need

Results for the spring 2022 edition of the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the first administration of the test for 4th and 8th grade students since the pandemic began—showed the largest drop in math performance among those students since the testing program began in 1990.

And declines are even sharper for students in poverty and Black and Latino students, Howard said.

But students who could benefit the most from tutoring programs don’t always participate—often because of the same life and family factors that led to inequality before the pandemic, he said, listing factors like transportation, language barriers, and family schedules as concerns.

See Also

Teacher at a desk helping an elementary girl with her work.
Curriculum Why Connecting Tutoring to Curriculum Could Make it More Effective
Sarah Schwartz, February 27, 2023
6 min read

Moore, the principal, said her school’s program, which is designed to target recovery needs for English learners, is called “clubs,” rather than “tutoring,” to help focus on students’ potential, rather than weaknesses. Thatstrategy, combined with tutors who have strong relationships with students, can boost participation and make tutoring more effective, she said.

“Are you seeing students as a deficit? Or do you know who they are?” Moore said. “Do you see the worth in them, the possibility of who they are?”

Parents aren’t aware of their children’s academic needs

Another big concern: Parents aren’t always aware of the urgency of their children’s academic needs, Kane said. And that may mean some don’t recognize the value of opting them into voluntary after-school programs.

Most parents—92 percent according to one survey by Learning Heroes—believe their children are at grade level and doing just fine in the classroom, Education Week reported in November.

Some schools have addressed this “perception gap” by holding parent meetings and regularly sharing data to help families understand students’ level of need.

See Also

teacher tutor student librarian 1137620335
SDI Productions/E+

More broadly, some schools have expanded school days or rearranged classes to build tutoring into the bell schedule so parents don’t have to opt their children in, Kane said. But some researchers have said extended school days or integrated tutoring are underused strategies.

Built-in tutoring “was hard to do last year because people were adding these tutoring programs after schedules had already been set, but it should be possible for next school year, for districts to create time during the regular school day,” Kane said.

The ‘dosage’ of tutoring is too low to make a dent

Pre-pandemic research found that tutoring programs are most effective when students are paired one-on-one with a trained tutor for frequent, well coordinated sessions that align with academic needs, Howard said.

Students should receive three to five tutoring sessions a week that are 30 to 60 minutes each, Kane said. But many schools’ programs offer much less tutoring time. And students who are chronically absent or otherwise not engaged with school may miss out on some sessions.

Schools dealing with staffing shortages, teacher burnout, and scheduling challenges may also struggle to meet the threshold of a “high-dosage” program, speakers said.

Moore, the Los Angeles principal, said her school has addressed those concerns by matching highly qualified teachers with trained paraprofessionals who help reduce the number of students per adult.

“Tutoring is a multi-layer problem,” she said. “A teacher can have five students struggling with the same [academic] concept, but every student needs something different.”


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Teacher Perspectives: What is the Future of Virtual Education?
Hear from practicing educators on how virtual and hybrid options offer more flexibility and best practices for administrative support.
Content provided by Class
Reading & Literacy Webinar How Background Knowledge Fits Into the ‘Science of Reading’ 
Join our webinar to learn research-backed strategies for enhancing reading comprehension and building cultural responsiveness in the classroom.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Spotlight Spotlight on Online Tutoring
This Spotlight will help you examine research outlining the benefits of online tutoring, identify best practices, and more.

Student Achievement 'Don't Reinvent The Wheel': How One District Made a Tutoring Program That Works
A North Carolina superintendent turned to tutoring to help students catch up long before COVID-19 pushed others in that direction.
1 min read
Andrew Houlihan, left, is the superintendent in Union County and developed a high-dosage tutoring strategy to combat student learning loss. Pictured here on Dec. 16, 2021 as he talks with Porter Ridge High School students Eriana Tucker and Lillie Curtis following lunch in the cafeteria.
Andrew Houlihan, left, is the superintendent in Union County and developed a high-dosage tutoring strategy to combat student learning loss. Pictured here on Dec. 16, 2021 as he talks with Porter Ridge High School students Eriana Tucker and Lillie Curtis following lunch in the cafeteria.
Alex Boerner for Education Week
Student Achievement Q&A Under Her Watch, This State's Schools Saw Some of the Fastest Improvement in the Nation
Carey Wright stepped down last year as Mississippi's state superintendent of education.
5 min read
Reaching for Diploma 02062023 1347244179 01
Student Achievement Opinion How Much Faith Should Educators Have in High-Dosage Tutoring?
What matters is less whether schools or systems spend money on high-dosage tutoring than how they do it.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty