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Student Achievement Opinion

Who Better to Serve as Tutors Than Teachers? Here’s One Way It’s Being Done

Low-income students receive instruction in small groups at no cost to them
By Rick Hess — November 30, 2023 8 min read
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As schools struggle to address learning loss, chronic absenteeism, and short staffing, there’s intense interest in the potential of tutoring. Well, one intriguing model seeks to provide quality tutoring and teachers with a lucrative part-time gig by building a network of teacher-tutors. Tutored by Teachers, founded in 2019, offers virtual tutoring by licensed educators. Sixty-two percent of its tutors have advanced degrees, and the average tutor has 12 years in the classroom. The program currently serves more than 10,000 students through district partnerships. Given the timeliness, I recently sat down with co-founder Rahul Kalita to chat about their work. Kalita is a veteran of the Obama Department of Education, with experience as an executive at Imagine Easy Solutions, RTL Group, and Discovery. Here’s what he had to say.

—Rick

Rick: What is Tutored by Teachers?

Rahul: At Tutored by Teachers, we give kids more small-group instruction time. There is a huge opportunity gap in the U.S.; families living in wealthier communities can afford to provide their children with private tutoring, extracurricular activities, travel, and much more, while folks living in lower-income areas cannot. And the pandemic only exacerbated this gap. We started Tutored by Teachers, TbT, to fight this inequity by providing tutoring services at no cost to families. The students we work with can receive small-group, targeted, high-dosage tutoring with highly qualified teachers. Our nation’s teachers can have class sizes up to 35–40 students, whereas our Teacher-Tutors have only 3–5! The potential for tailor-made instruction, differentiation, relationship building, and student growth is exponential in a class size this small, and our numbers prove it.

Rick: How do you find, train, and support your teacher-tutors?

Rahul: Our teacher-tutor community includes about 5,000 educators who work with us in a part-time capacity. They are made up of current and recently retired educators. In an average hourlong session, teacher-tutors earn about $40. Some teachers have been with us since the early days of TbT, even joining us in full-time roles. All of our teacher-tutors have direct access to an onboarding coach who assists them during their training and preparation for their first engagement with students. Our training program consists of self-paced online courses, live professional development, and access to various resources and tech tools. Teachers are trained in the best practices for small-group virtual settings, engaging and interactive online learning platforms, building a positive class culture through relationship-building, expectation setting, and more.

Rick: How do you evaluate tutor performance, and what happens if someone isn’t cutting it?

Rahul: In addition to continuous training, TbT also provides ongoing support and supervision. TbT’s instructional coaches—mentor teachers—help maintain the quality of instruction by reviewing lesson plans, leading professional development sessions, observing and coaching teacher-tutors, and remaining on-call to address any issues. We utilize an eight-point rubric to assess tutors and provide weekly feedback to help ensure the highest quality of instruction. This reporting and support structure is modeled after a school leadership team and is designed to provide similar accountability measures. We follow a system of checks and balances to ensure that our teacher-tutors are being evaluated fairly and support them in making improvements before deeming them ineffective.

Rick: Who are your clients? Individual students, school systems, or . . . ?

Rahul: We serve students in school systems throughout the country; currently, we support students in 15 states and are in three of the 20 largest districts. Some partner districts include Metro-Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Los Angeles Unified; Las Cruces, N.M; Denver; and Indianapolis. We also work with a number of charter school networks including KIPP Jacksonville public schools, KIPP Metro Atlanta, and KIPP New Jersey. Furthermore, we are state-approved in Arkansas, Indiana, Connecticut, Ohio, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Texas.

Rick: How does your relationship with districts work, and how do you set the cost of your services?

Rahul: Generally, we receive approval from the district leadership team, whether it be through a written proposal or other means. From there, we work with individual schools and their site leadership, such as principals and assistant principals or directors of teaching and learning. About 4–6 weeks prior to a program launch, we’ll work with these school leaders to identify target standards, determine schedules, and identify the students that should be part of the upcoming program. The cost of services paid by districts is determined by the number of students participating, the ratio of teacher to student, the number of weeks the program will be running, and the level of customization required to start programming.

Rick: Is the program integrated into the school day?

Rahul: TbT’s program scheduling is flexible and customizable to the needs of the district and/or school. More often than not, we build high-dosage tutoring into the school day, often during an existing intervention block or during small-group time. We can also provide instruction before and after school, summer, and on Saturdays.

Rick: You say you tutor with a “high dosage” model—which frequently means different things to different people. What do you mean by that phrase?

Rahul: TbT’s high-dosage tutoring model is based on research-backed best practices, as recommended in the Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s design principles of high-dosage tutoring, which include: using experienced teachers, focusing on priority standards, and leveraging data to drive instruction—such as forming small groups and developing tailored instructional programs, delivering multiple sessions a week, and placing students in leveled small groups with a consistent educator throughout the program. All instructional materials provided to teacher-tutors are vetted by our content team to ensure they align with research-based best practices and priority standards. Lessons are prescheduled and typically 45–60 minutes long—focusing on key skills and standards aligned with school curricula.

Rick: My understanding is that you’re currently running a pilot intervention program. Could you talk about what makes it a pilot and what the results have been?

Rahul: We prefer to launch with a few select schools in a pilot program, then use our findings to launch districtwide. It helps to gain this experience in a handful of schools first in order to get implementation right for an entire district. In a district such as Indianapolis, we started with a 900-student pilot during the spring semester of 2021. Upon seeing double-digit gains on target standards, the district then expanded the program to serve all of their emerging, turnaround schools for the next school year.

Rick: What kind of results have you seen?

Rahul: In our 2021–22 pilot program with Indianapolis public schools, we “saw K–11 students improve their math scores by 12–26 percent.” Starting in fall 2022, we delivered a program to 1,600-plus students primarily attending emerging schools. As measured by current NWEA data, the average math growth from fall to winter of students in TbT tutoring was above the national average, in the 52nd percentile, while nonparticipating students’ average growth was 42nd percentile. In ELA, participating students performed at the 40th percentile, whereas nonparticipating students’ average growth was at the 28th percentile. Third-party psychometricians found these results to be both statistically and practically significant. For those same emerging schools, where we served 45 percent of their students, the district recently highlighted that those 3rd graders outperformed the state average on IREAD scores. We also leverage third-party vetted assessments to capture our own pre-post growth data. In the 2022–23 academic year, we saw a 20.9 percent improvement in math and an average of 22.7 percent improvement in ELA across all our engagements.

Rick: There’s also a summer program you all run, like an intensive summer school. Could you explain what that is and how this year’s went?

Rahul: TbT’s Summer Academy is designed to give students the opportunity to master unfinished learning from prior grades and set them up for a successful year through a virtual 20-day tutoring program in math and ELA. You can think of this as a finishing school, where students get extra at-bats on load-bearing standards they must master to be successful in the upcoming school year. Our Summer Academy is for rising 1st through 8th graders and utilizes a pre-planned curriculum that is aligned with state standards. Students who participated in TbT’s Summer Academy showed academic gains in their fall NWEA scores over the spring, while their peers who didn’t attend Summer Academy experienced the typical summer slide.

Rick: Do you have one piece of advice on how parents or educators can best ensure that tutoring delivers?

Rahul: Having a consistent tutor is critical to the success of any program. Building relationships between the same teacher-tutor and students increases attendance, engagement, and ultimately outcomes. We have heard from countless parents that these programs build confidence for their kids. Their kids are raising their hands in class, completing their homework, and above all, coming out of their shells. And from an administrators’ perspective, they’ve seen students blossom and get to grade level, all in part due to our programs.

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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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