Dive Brief:

  • Despite mounting research that well-done tutoring is significantly effective in boosting student achievement, access has historically been limited to students from affluent families, according to The Hechinger Report.
  • While the impact face-to-face or virtual mass tutoring programs could have on curbing the “COVID slide” is uncertain, experts suggest increasing access to tutors might be critical in addressing learning losses resulting from prolonged school closures and transitions to online learning models.
  • One-on-one and small group tutoring has been shown to have the most impact, but is also the most cost-prohibitive to low-income students — who also often don’t have access to the technology, physical space or moral support to drive success in tutoring programs or distance learning.

Dive Insight:

Addressing the “COVID slide” presents one of the most complicated challenges of the pandemic beyond the transition to distance learning. During a typical summer, there’s already some expectation of a “summer slide.” A study published in July in the American Educational Research Journal, using data from Northwest Evaluation Associationfollowed students in grades 1 through 6 over five summers and found 52% of the students lost an average of 39% of their total school year gains during the summer months.

Students returning to school this fall, however, have the compounded effect of not just the summer break, but of a spring disrupted by school closures and the aforementioned switch to online learning models. That transition was particularly prohibitive for many low-income students whose families lacked home access to internet or devices, or who have been in unstable home environments.

On the connectivity front alone, an estimated 16.9 million students (or 8.4 million households) lack home internet access, and 3.6 million households lack a computer. Districts have worked to alleviate these factors to the best of their ability, with some service providers also helping out by offering free or reduced price internet, for example. 

Even then, these are the needs and concerns taken into consideration for providing standard educational services, let alone additional tutor programming to assist in addressing learning loss. Addressing the slide has been recognized by education leaders like Suzanne Newell, director of academics for the Austin Independent School District in Texas, as an equity issue, and others have acknowledged that fixing it will take more than a semester.

But there’s only so much districts can do with limited resources that are expected to be stretched thinner as the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on tax revenues leads to expected K-12 funding cuts in state budgets.

Powering tutor programs and other informal learning outlets will require funds for additional staff, space and more, on top of support for making that programming readily accessible to low-income students. And selling that need to state and federal lawmakers alongside all the other priorities could prove to be the greatest piece of the challenge overall.

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