Here is the seemingly reasonable expectation that President Biden and his administration laid out at the start of the school year to address ongoing learning gaps in math and reading: for schools to hire “250,000 more tutors and mentors for our kids” with the help of American Rescue Plan funds.
With recent declines in National Assessment of Education Progress scores and growing teacher shortages, there is no more urgent time for such an investment in high-impact tutors.
Yet, we are more than halfway through the semester and many schools continue to struggle tosource enough tutors.
They are asking: Where are we supposed to find them? And, how can we ensure that the tutors we hire — and trust with our students — are truly prepared and capable of accelerating student learning?
The answer to these questions is one for which my colleagues and I at Deans for Impact have advocated since the early days of the pandemic. We believe that education leaders, including Biden, must mobilize the 600,000 individuals enrolled in teacher training programs.
Right now, too many communities faced with low rates of unemployment, rising inflation and teacher shortages are enlisting inexperienced tutors. Many have been hired by fly-by-night, (often) for-profit, virtual programs with negligible track records for supporting student success. This not only wastes resources, it borders on educational malpractice.
Meanwhile, candidates training to become teachers need experience working with students as part of their training. What’s more, many of these potential tutors are in college and seeking part-time employment. They can be trained and supervised by the programs they are already part of. It’s a win-win-win.
Tutoring is one of the few federal education issues with bipartisan support in Congress. The proposed PATHS to Tutors Act would establish a $500 million program to support tutoring partnerships among educator-preparation programs, school districts and nonprofit organizations in underserved communities.
It’s co-sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Chris Murphy (D-Del.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and would provide critical investments and infrastructure to create and scale high-quality partnerships.
Many communities are already actively mobilizing future teachers as tutors. Through a recent grant, Deans for Impact launched a national network of 21 high-impact tutoring initiatives working together to increase the number of aspiring teachers serving as tutors for thousands of students across 13 states.
Related: States’ urgent push to overhaul reading instruction
Our new network convenes programs to address local and collective challenges. We share local practices that hold promise for fostering policies that will embed high-impact tutoring as a regular experience for aspiring teachers and K-12 students.
The New Jersey Tutoring Corps, for example, is a statewide, high-impact tutoring initiative that recruits tutors from multiple sources, including the ranks of current teachers and substitutes, retired teachers and aspiring teachers from educator-preparation programs. The program trains and places tutors in local schools and community organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Tutoring happens 2-4 times each week during and after school, and also takes place over the summer.
The corps requires rigorous, mandatory pre- and on-the-job training. Among several areas of focus, tutors are expected to implement research-based, content-specific instructional skills; support their students’ social and emotional learning and development; recognize signs in students of neglect and abuse; and routinely engage in coaching sessions where they receive feedback to improve their practice.
The people we trust to tutor our students should be the same as the ones we trust to teach them — it’s that simple.
The importance of this training was evident during my recent visit to one of the corps’ partner sites, where each tutor deliberately reviewed student assessment data to inform the day’s lesson. Comprehensive program data is regularly collected and shared with external evaluators, and results are used to strengthen the overall program and individual tutoring sessions.
During the state’s last legislative session, lawmakers allocated $1 million for the corps in the state budget, celebrating and codifying the impressive learning acceleration the program has helped students make.
This is an incredible win for students and future teachers in New Jersey. In particular, aspiring teachers in the corps spoke of how the joy, learning and confidence these tutoring sessions fostered solidified their decision to become teachers.
Typical practice experiences often place candidates in classrooms with 20 or more students. The corps allows more one-on-ones and small groups of no more than four. When we visited last fall, one candidate said that “an opportunity like this … [provides] more practice and a different, more intimate version of teaching.”
Similar efforts in other states are also taking hold and creating greater access to high-quality, practice-based teacher training for the next generation of American teachers, especially those currently underrepresented in the workforce.
Related: Plunging NAEP scores make clear the long and difficult road ahead to pandemic recovery
We know these aren’t the only programs committed to this work. Across our network and beyond, promising tutoring initiatives are researching best practices, seeking to scale what’s worked and looking for ways to sustain local efforts once federal relief funding ultimately expires.
These are among the initiatives the Biden administration and Congress should be working together to make commonplace. One action they can take right now is to pass the PATHS to Tutors Act.
The way ahead is to mobilize future teachers as tutors. The people we trust to tutor our students should be the same as the ones we trust to teach them — it’s that simple.
Patrick Steck is senior director of policy at Deans for Impact, a national nonprofit committed to ensuring that every child is taught by a well-prepared teacher.
This story about high-impact tutoring was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.