Accelerate, a national initiative to support effective tutoring, awarded $1 million each to five states on Wednesday to bolster efforts to integrate tutoring into the school day.
The goal is to develop proven models and infrastructure that other states can then adopt, said Kevin Huffman, Accelerate’s CEO.
The initiative was launched in April of last year, as states and districts scrambled to scale up tutoring efforts in the wake of pandemic learning disruptions. It aims to test new models for individualized student support, offer insight into what works, and create networks of states and districts to share best practices.
With this round of grants, the organization has focused on tutoring specifically tied to states’ broader academic goals—rather than standalone programs that provide general academic help, Huffman said.
Three of the five states—Arkansas, Delaware, and Ohio—will use the funds to scale reading tutoring for students in early elementary grades, supporting recently passed or proposed legislation in these states that aims to bring reading instruction in line with evidence-based best practices.
Colorado, one of the other two states receiving the grants, will offer funding to districts for math tutoring in grades 3-7, supporting the state’s ongoing work to improve math instruction. In March, Colorado legislators announced a bipartisan proposal to train teachers in evidence-based practices for math instruction, provide interventions for struggling students, and offer after-school math and STEM programs.
The fifth state, Louisiana, will use the grant funding to support statewide tutoring efforts in English/language arts for grades K-5 and math for grades K-8.
The organization’s work is funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arnold Ventures, the Overdeck Family Foundation, and Kenneth C. Griffin, who leads Citadel, an investment firm. (Education Week currently receives operating support from the Gates Foundation. The news organization maintains sole editorial control over its articles.)
Balancing evidence-tested interventions with innovation
Studies have shown that high-dosage tutoring—in which students meet one-on-one or in small groups with tutors, at least three times a week—is one of the most effective strategies for improving student achievement. And over the past few years, many states and districts have launched tutoring programs aimed at helping students gain lost academic ground.
How states have set up these initiatives varies, though. Some states, such as Texas, required tutoring for large swaths of the student population and mandated that districts deliver it. Others, including Arizona and Michigan, built a corps of trained tutors at the state level. Connecticut and Tennessee offered lists of vetted providers. Still, paying for these programs at the state level has been challenging in some cases, as most ESSER funding flowed directly to districts.
Some of this tutoring is offered in person, a mode that has strong evidence for effectiveness. Other tutoring is provided online—an approach that has been studied less, but that has shown some positive results in certain settings. Many districts, meanwhile, say they’ve been disappointed in “on demand” online tutoring.
As states explore different approaches, balancing the imperative to implement tried-and-tested strategies with the possibility for innovation is a constant challenge, Huffman said.
“Understandably, there is a desire to try to have people do the things that have a body of research that’s already behind it, which makes sense. At the same time, technology is changing so rapidly that I think you don’t want to cut off all access to innovation,” he said.
Tutoring companies are likely to harness large language models—the technology that powers ChatGPT—and other artifical intelligence, Huffman said. At least one company, Khan Academy, is already doing this. In March, it launched Khanmigo, an AI guide designed to “mimic one-on-one tutoring experiences.”
States need opportunities to test and experiment with new frameworks, conduct research, and ensure that “the scaling happens after the research, and not before,” Huffman said.
Accelerate plans to work with grantees to collect evidence on tutoring programs’ operations and effectiveness. One piece of information that often isn’t systematically collected, but is key to evaluating programs’ success, is usage, Huffman said—how often students are actually accessing the services provided.
“Right now, most places cannot tell you if student X got Y number of lessons in tutoring over the course of a period of time,” he said.
Huffman said Accelerate has looked to the Council of Chief State School Officers’ High-Quality Instructional Materials and Professional Development Network for inspiration. The CCSSO network of 13 states collaborates on strategies to encourage schools to use curricula and other materials that are aligned to state standards and provide rich and rigorous learning opportunities. (Experts say that aligning tutoring and curriculum to the same instructional goals can make tutoring more effective.)
“Our hope is to borrow some of the lessons of what’s been successful there, to have states work together,” Huffman said.