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Student Achievement Opinion

This Nonprofit Runs the Nation’s 3 Largest Tutoring Programs. Here’s What It’s Learned

Data and experience offer valuable lessons
By Rick Hess — March 04, 2024 6 min read
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Tutoring is having quite the moment, for pretty obvious reasons. What’s less clear is whether “high-dosage tutoring” will turn out to be another overhyped fad or something that actually makes a difference. That’s why I’ve had so many of these conversations over the past 12 months with individuals who’ve had experience delivering tutoring at scale. Well, this time I’m talking to Lindsay Dolce, the chief advancement officer at Ampact, a 1-1 tutoring program in reading, math, and early childhood. Ampact’s 200 staffers train and support 2,000 AmeriCorps tutors, and those tutors do more than a million tutoring sessions a year with more than 30,000 students. Here’s what Dolce had to say.

—Rick

Rick: Just what is Ampact?

Lindsay: Ampact is the organization that implements the three largest tutoring programs in the country: Reading Corps, Math Corps, and Early Learning Corps. We got our start in 2003 as the implementer of Reading Corps, an AmeriCorps program, which has become the nation’s largest evidence-based AmeriCorps program rooted in the science of reading. Several independent studies have demonstrated our success. For example, students who received Reading Corps tutoring demonstrated growth in phonics, reading fluency, and oral reading fluency scores that were equivalent to an extra 50 percent to 90 percent of a year of schooling.

Rick: What’s distinctive about your approach to tutoring?

Lindsay: First, it’s all about data. “Data-based” is a buzzword now, but we have spent 20 years monitoring and adapting our programs to best meet students’ and educators’ needs. Specifically, via age-appropriate summative assessments stemming from surveys; monthly data meetings and fidelity checks; point-in-time skills tests; and benchmarks we conduct each fall, winter, and spring. What also sets us apart is our training and coaching model. Reading Corps, Math Corps, and Early Learning Corps tutors work with staff to identify students who need extra support and deliver tailored instructional interventions. Another distinction: Reading Corps, Math Corps, and Early Learning Corps are tutoring programs that are offered at zero or low cost to schools. Especially since COVID, there are a lot of for-profit tutoring options, many of which are new. None of them has our track record or results. And they are all considerably more costly.

Rick: What do we know about the effectiveness of your program? Can you point to any research or evaluations that readers might want to check out?

Lindsay: Seven independent evaluations have demonstrated the effectiveness of our programs. Evidence for ESSA at Johns Hopkins University identified Reading Corps as having the highest level of evidence supporting its reading interventions. Proven Tutoring, the nation’s only clearinghouse for research-proven tutoring models, identified Math Corps as one of two proven 4-8 grade math tutoring programs in the country; Evidence for ESSA also rated Math Corps as “strong.” A recent Mathematica report, based on research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that students involved in Math Corps reported strong relationships with their tutor, a sense of belonging in the program, and increased confidence in math. After a single semester, the average kindergarten student in Reading Corps performed twice as well as their peers, and Math Corps students were twice as likely to achieve math-fact fluency and meet end-of-year math benchmarks.

Rick: Does tutoring happen during the school day or after hours?

Lindsay: It depends on the program. With Early Learning Corps, we embed a tutor in the classroom. This means the teacher has an extra person—one grounded in evidence-based solutions—to help manage the class. These tutors see every moment of the day as a chance for instruction. When students line up for recess, our tutors sing songs about the alphabet or counting. During times of play, the tutors lead games that build skills for reading and math. With Reading Corps and Math Corps, students receive 20-minute interventions individually or in pairs during the school day, so each student receives 100 minutes of tutoring per week. This typically happens in a room nearby, media center, or quiet hallway, whichever works best.

Rick: There’s been a lot of talk about “high-dosage” tutoring. What does “high dosage” mean to you all, and what have you learned about ensuring students get enough tutoring to make a difference?

Lindsay: High-dosage tutoring is all about consistency. In Reading Corps, students and tutors meet one-on-one for 20 minutes per day, five days per week. Math Corps is a little different. With math, evidence indicates that tutors meeting with two to three students is as effective as meeting one-on-one. Math Corps students receive roughly the same amount of tutoring per week—in this case, 90 minutes. Where that time falls within the week is determined by the school so that tutoring happens during the school day, which is an important factor for maintaining consistency.

Rick: How do you find and train tutors?

Lindsay: One misconception is that our tutors are all young people. We have found huge value in intergenerational relationships that form through service. We draw on local talent, seeking people who are passionate about serving their community. Since our training and coaching model works for practically anyone, it’s not important what subject-matter background they have when they start. What matters is that they care about their community and want to help local youth. Sometimes, recent high school graduates need some space before their next step, and these programs provide that bridge while building their skills. And tutors find us through word of mouth. We offer a living stipend and education award consistent with AmeriCorps’ rates, and, for those who serve at least 35 hours per week, we also offer health insurance and child-care assistance.

Rick: You all have been at this a long while. What’s one tip for educators and school leaders when it comes to finding and making the most of a tutor?

Lindsay: The biggest thing that teachers and administrators can do is to ensure the tutor is folded into the culture of the school—invite them to parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights, and other activities with the rest of the staff. Our tutors are typically service-driven, so it is important that they feel recognized and valued. And besides, we all want to feel like we fit into the community we are in. Since our tutors care about and tend to their communities, it’s often as rewarding for the school as for the tutor when they feel part of the whole school—not just a classroom.

Rick: What are a couple things you’ve learned along the way that can help schools or districts avoid missteps when it comes to setting up tutoring programs?

Lindsay: Whether in the Central Valley of California or Albany, Ga., or Poughkeepsie, N.Y., we don’t shy away from school districts that are among the nation’s smallest or largest. A few recommendations for making the most of a tutoring program for any school district are: Build your program with sustainability in mind. Be wary of using one-time money, and know that federal dollars can support long-term efforts. Be clear about what you are trying to accomplish. Do you need to support students most at risk? Those who are not quite proficient? Or both? Math Corps, Reading Corps, and Early Learning Corps will fit either of these tiers, but other programs are designed to work for one or another—so the answers to these questions may affect which model and tutors a district chooses. Stick with proven programs grounded in an evidence base. This may sound banal, but too many districts fall for slick marketing, and their students suffer. Or they pay teachers to provide homework help, which will fall short of building foundational skills to be successful in school. Ensure you provide coaching support for whoever is tutoring. This layered support benefits students and tutors alike, and it’s core to our methods.

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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