Corrected: This story has been updated to correct the list of senators who have co-sponsored the tutoring bill.
As dean of Bowling Green State University’s College of Education in Ohio, Dawn Shinew has watched aspiring teachers struggle to make ends meet.
Often, they can’t afford to work as unpaid student-teachers in schools while paying tuition and the usual costs of living. It’s doubly discouraging, Shinew said, because few will earn a high salary after they graduate and enter the teaching profession.
“We do have students, who, I think, would be interested, really talented, the kinds of people we want to be in classrooms, [for whom] it isn’t a matter of commitment, it’s a practical reality,” Shinew said.
A bill reintroduced in the U.S. Senate this week could change the situation for students like those Shinew teaches, while also providing more tutors to K-12 schools as they struggle to catch students up.
The Partnering Aspiring Teachers with High-Need Schools to Tutor bill, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., along with Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., would provide $500 million in grant funding to support partnerships between universities, community organizations, and K-12 schools to get people who want to pursue teaching into tutoring roles.
The money could be used to provide teaching students with stipends or other forms of payment for their in-classroom work, something that’s not traditionally available to student-teachers.
The bill is part of a massive push for tutoring programs from educators, lawmakers, and President Joe Biden as the extent of students’ academic slide during the pandemic becomes increasingly clear. It’s also in part a response to growing concerns about teacher shortages affecting schools across the country.
Also this week, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Tim Kaine, D-Va., reintroduced the Preparing and Retaining Education Professionals Act, which aims to tackle teacher and principal shortages and diversify the profession by setting aside existing federal funding for states to address shortages, encouraging districts to create grow-your-own programs, and requiring states to identify areas or subjects with shortages.
It remains to be seen whether they’ll make it through both the Senate and the U.S. House. Neither bill left committee in the Senate after they were first introduced last session so it’s doubtful they will go far this time around, though elements could be attached to larger funding bills.
Tutoring continues to be a popular academic recovery strategy
Tutoring has become a major strategy for schools and lawmakers hoping to respond to worsening student learning following the pandemic. Annual NAEP scores in math and reading have plummeted from pre-pandemic levels, and a recent report shows that students are making progress at a slower rate than their peers pre-COVID.
The Biden administration has pushed for tutoring through federal initiatives and policy guidance, encouraging school districts, universities, and community organizations to partner to expand high-dosage tutoring in schools. At the state level, more than a fifth of ESSER funding—nearly $4.3 billion of the $19 billion state education departments received from the federal government—has gone to tutoring, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers. Districts themselves have spent more from their allotments of the federal COVID relief aid.
The support for tutoring is so widespread largely because, in theory, the strategy works. Research shows that high-dosage, daily tutoring that involves a consistent tutor, can result in students across all grade levels gaining up to 15 months of learning. But it’s often difficult for schools to carry it out well because of difficulty finding qualified tutors, challenges getting all of the students who need the help to participate in the tutoring, limited funding and time in the school day, and struggles with online tutoring providers of uneven quality.
“We have the evidence to say that we can move student thinking forward and catch students up when we think really intentionally about how to set up the conditions for high impact tutoring or high dosage tutoring to actually take place,” said Patrick Steck, vice president of external affairs for Deans for Impact, which is behind the Senate legislation and supports improvements in teacher preparation and policies that diversify the teacher workforce.
Bill aims to support teacher pipeline
In addition to funding tutoring, the bill aims to make the teaching profession more accessible for aspiring teachers, primarily by setting up a funding stream to pay them for their tutoring work while they’re still in training.
“Clinical and practice experiences in teaching are historically unpaid,” Steck said. “This creates an opportunity to provide some type of compensation.”
The bill would require organizations and universities that receive federal grant funding to use 85 percent of those funds to directly support education students through stipends, transportation subsidies, and other expenses associated with their tutoring. In some cases, universities could use the money to help offset licensing fees or part of a student’s tuition.
The money to help pay college students to work as tutors would be a game changer, said Shinew, of Bowling Green State University. The university sends around 1,500 students to do fieldwork in schools each semester, which includes tutoring. Last year, the university created a structured tutoring program for aspiring teachers, in which college students worked as tutors in Bowling Green’s elementary schools.
The university has been able to pay its teaching students for their tutoring work through a state grant, but the Senate proposal could supplement that, Shinew said.
“For me, that is critical because not only does it help in the K-12 learning gap that we are seeing, it also is helping to retain teacher candidates who often struggle with the cost, paying bills, and all of those things for a profession that at the end is not going to be very high paying for them,” Shinew said. “Anything we can do to offer financial support as they are preparing to be teachers is a win in my book.”