Students kept waiting while tutoring funding hangs in limbo

America’s students have suffered these last two years, and school districts have struggled to make up for lost time and lost learning.

School officials have begun identifying tutoring as an evidence-based solution, and they aren’t alone. Policymakers at the state and federal levels have prioritized funding dedicated to in-person tutoring, and recent polling from EdChoice has shown substantial parental demand for and interest in tutoring and supplemental learning pods.

It is encouraging to see such large-scale efforts and attention to address learning loss and academic gaps. But recently proposed tutoring plans will not go far enough if they solely focus on tutoring inside schoolhouse walls and only during regular school hours. They also will be missing a tremendous opportunity by leaving out a vital potential partner—parents and guardians.

At the federal level, in March 2021, Congress passed The American Rescue Plan, which included $122 billion for public education—20 percent of which is to be used to make up for lost time. In recent months, the US Department of Education has encouraged states and school districts to use that funding for in-school tutoring, often called “high-dosage” tutoring.

But with an expiration date of 2024, districts are sitting on the money, seemingly not feeling the urgency to take action right now, when students need it the most. Whether it’s taking too long to plan, or not having the right mechanisms for implementation, district spending is very slow.

Time spent figuring out the delivery model, processes, and financial costs—which could easily be stymied by rules, regulations, and compliance requirements—is wasted time that puts students only further behind the eight-ball.

That is a frustrating development when there are numerous, turnkey partners in the private sector that can help students right away. Sylvan, Chegg, Kumon, Mathnasium—to name just a few—offer in-person afterschool tutoring, and fast-growing networking platforms like Tutors.com and Remind connect students with a tutor in a relatively short amount of time.

While some might be nervous to have students use an online tutoring service, a recent study in Spain found that “compared to a control group, students in the [online] tutoring program had higher standardized test scores and grades, and were less likely to repeat a grade. They also were more likely to report putting increased effort into their schoolwork.”

My own children have benefitted from tutoring for more than four years—and completely online since April 2020. They have been learning and keeping pace with their goals and peers.

My wife and I are lucky to have found a supportive and very effective tutor, but we also have deliberately included out-of-school tutoring as an essential complement to our kids’ school-based learning because of the flexibility and adaptability it provides.

Our home state of Indiana is setting a great example by launching an enrichment grants program that will use federal funding to allocate $500 grants to families to pay for tutoring—either online or in-person. Districts can provide an additional $250 per student that Indiana will match, for a total allocation of $1,000 per student, which could cover 25-50 hours of tutoring for a child during the school year.

Students will qualify based on their state test scores, but specific details on how the grant will be accessed and when it will launch are still being ironed out. This approach allows greater flexibility for students and families and increases access to a much greater supply of tutors with the virtual learning option.

In April, a new national nonprofit organization called Accelerate launched to expand tutoring programs to all students in K-12 public schools, and it has raised $65 million of its first-year goal of $100 million.

Accelerate and Indiana’s tutoring micro-grant program are steps in the right direction to help our country’s students navigate the COVID-19 storms and chart a successful future. Such all-of-the-above approaches are necessary to create and sustain a post-pandemic shift toward a flexible K-12 learning ecosystem that can include tutoring and learning pods.

Greater access and mobility will allow parents and guardians—who have been balancing plenty these past two years—to find the best fit for their students’ needs and their schedules.

Establishing new tutoring programs inside schools can benefit students, but it will take time. Time for funds to be spent. Time for implementation to follow many school-bound compliance, rules, and regulations to various entities. And time to scale in a way that reaches everyone who needs it. Those efforts and initiatives are admirable and could work. But why take a chance when there are immediate options that can be deployed quickly? America’s students don’t have time to waste.

Paul DiPerna is Vice President of Research and Innovation for EdChoice.

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