FY 2022 Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Competition Announcement

FY 2022 Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Competition Announcement

The Department of Education recently announced details for this year’s Education Innovation and Research Program (EIR) that will award $160 million dollars to projects addressing educational challenges with evidence-based solutions that can be scaled to serve a larger number of students. This annual competition is focused on exploring new ways to address persistent challenges educators face, building evidence on the effectiveness of solutions and replicating successful practices across new schools, districts and states. 

Serving high-need students is a critical element of the EIR program. Although the definition of a high-need student is left open for applicants to determine, historically, these groups include students living in rural or low-income communities, underrepresented and economically disadvantaged populations.

Applicants must incorporate a high level of evidence into their projects and rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of their programs leveraging independent parties. 

EIR grants will be awarded within a multi-tier structure based on the amount of evidence to support the effectiveness of proposed projects: 

  • Early-phase (demonstrating a rationale)
  • Mid-phase (moderate evidence) 
  • and Expansion (strong supporting evidence)

Eligible applicants include LEAs, SEAs, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), consortiums of SEAs or LEAs and nonprofit organizations (including higher education institutions with distinction). 

Applications for the EIR grants are now available and notice of intent to apply is due May 27th, 2022. The early-phase application deadline is July 21, 2022 and Mid-phase and Expansion deadlines are June 21, 2022. 

Interested in applying? Visit the competition website for more info. Applicants must submit timely and accurate information to be considered for the peer review process. 

Need help with your EIR grant application? Feel free to contact a Pearl team member with any questions, we’re here to help! 

The Nationwide Teacher Shortage Is Real 

The Nationwide Teacher Shortage Is Real 

So how are we going to find all those tutors we need?

2021 saw the birth of the so-called Great Resignation as, around the nation, workers fled jobs by the droves. Many businesses laid-off workers because of a lack of customers. Some workers used the opportunity to finally switch careers and leave behind jobs they hated. Others quit because of frustrations with Covid protocols or other problems brought on by the pandemic. One sector slammed especially hard? Education. 

Teachers have been in exodus mode for months now. Burned out, tired of getting blamed for student knowledge gaps (since even before the pandemic) or just plain fed up from dealing with angry parents, K-12 teachers around the country have decided to opt-out and either retire or look for other work. Indeed, the Learning Policy Institute noted in January 2022 that “the current staffing crisis in public schools is taking center stage in communities throughout the country.” 

Meanwhile, an Education Week survey clearly demonstrated that school districts are struggling to staff vital teaching posts, with 37% reporting “moderate” problems, 25% claiming “severe” shortages and 15% warning of “very severe” issues. 

The teacher shortage is so bad that in some states National Guard troops are being deployed to classrooms to keep schools from shuttering their doors. 

How did we get here and what’s the way ahead — if there even is one?

Shortage of Teachers: An Old Problem, Exacerbated

Interestingly, the teacher shortage isn’t a new issue; it’s simply been thrust into the spotlight as the gap widened due to Covid. 

In a recent Pearls of Wisdom webinar with Pearl CRO Nate Casey, Patrick Steck, Senior Director of Policy for Deans for Impact, points out that: “Teacher shortages are not a new topic in our field of education. The US has long struggled to attract, train and reward enough teachers to actually serve our students adequately.” 

But Steck also observed how “uniquely different” this round of shortages has been. “At the start of the school year, teachers reported levels of exhaustion that we might expect heading into the end of the school year.” Clearly, stress overload has been a prime driver behind teachers exiting en masse, and it’s impacting certain hard-struck communities worse than others. 

“Teacher shortages,” Steck says, “are often vexing for specific subject areas like Math, SpEd, ELA, and English Language Arts, and geographies — particularly our rural communities across the country. We have a hard time recruiting a workforce that actually reflects the students it needs to serve.” 

How much of a negative impact has the shortage caused so far? Such measurements are difficult to calculate with precision, yet one indisputable fact is that teacher shortages are exacerbating the learning loss problem, which has already reached epidemic proportions. 

The Pandemic-Fueled Learning Loss Crisis

Learning loss and knowledge gap problems are detrimental to this generation’s students and their futures, but the impacts can get passed on to their own children, too. Many studies have been done on the correlation between academics and income potential. In particular, a study by the University of Miami succinctly concluded, “High school grade point average (GPA) is a strong predictor of future earnings.” 

In contrast, students who don’t fare well in K-12 classes may not make it to college and may struggle with a lifetime of lower earnings. They’re thus at greater risk of raising children in impoverished conditions. Over time, the cycle repeats, creating intergenerational poverty. Indeed, the National Center for Children in Poverty highlights this issue, noting “Poverty rates for adults who were poor during childhood are much higher, especially for those individuals with high levels of exposure to poverty during childhood.” 

Beyond the long term impact on individual families, the problems caused by learning loss and the knowledge gap extend even to the economy on the whole. Indeed, a look back in time highlights the future problems awaiting the nation if we cannot fix these issues immediately. For example, McKinsey & Company’s COVID-19 and learning loss—disparities grow and students need help emphasizes that in 2009, if the achievement gap within students of color communities had been properly addressed, then “today’s US GDP would have been $426 billion to $705 billion higher.” 

Although it is not a sole factor, the nationwide teacher shortage is at the root of this complex tangle of problems. The shortage is not only obviously real, it’s creating tangible long problems for students, families, communities, states…and for the entire nation. 

The question is, how can it be fixed? Without sufficient teachers standing in classrooms, what can be done today to get students on the road to recovery from the deleterious effects of Covid on their learning? 

Tutors to the Rescue

As a leader in the field of tutoring software, we at Pearl believe that tutoring is the clear evidence-based winner when it comes to solutions for filling the teachers gap and addressing learning loss. In fact, America is currently experiencing a “Renaissance in tutoring” as evolving technologies make it easier than ever to introduce qualified tutors into homes and classrooms — without the need for their physical presence. 

Finding the Right Tutors

Finding qualified, suitable tutors comes with its own unique set of challenges. “Communities are really struggling to find enough tutors to meet student needs,” Patrick Steck notes in the webinar, while highlighting that districts are even mobilizing teacher candidates as tutors to help fill the gap. 

Meanwhile, passively advertising tutoring jobs on the usual job portals like Indeed is bound to net plenty of applications, but sometimes it pays to be more proactive. Reaching out to the areas where potential tutoring pools exist can be fruitful. As Steck further states, savvy districts are “seeking support from retired teachers, in-service teachers, college students, community volunteers, and in some cases even high schoolers to support their younger peers.” 

Integrating Online Tutoring 

It may take time to find and train the right tutors, but the search can be easily expanded with one simple change — expanding the parameters to include online tutors. While in-person tutors are perfect for many situations, online options are great alternatives, especially with a bit of foreplanning. The key is to work out the logistics in advance. “Some…logistical challenges exist across the virtual tutoring field,” said Tutored by Teachers’ co-founder Shaan Akbar in an interview with Education Week

Too often, school administrators and staff scramble to cover for teacher shortages by implementing virtual tutoring without sufficient preparation. They sometimes fail to take into consideration the practical implications of incorporating such lessons into the school day (for example, they must physically usher students into areas where they can make their online tutoring appointments). But when done right, the online tutoring can be a lifesaver for everyone involved. 

Online tutors have far more flexibility, as well, which is critical for ensuring consistency. As EdSource writes, “Consistent tutoring with the same tutor can go far. In addition to helping students develop and make progress on their learning goals, tutors can serve as caring, reliable and inspirational role models to students who historically have not had the same access to personalized and stable resources and supports as those able to afford them.” 

Choosing the Best Tutoring Style

In terms of finding the most effective tutoring style, studies have demonstrated “high-impact tutoring” to be the best option. High impact tutoring refers to “three or more sessions per week,” per the National Student Support Accelerator, a program based at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. 

The Not Too Late: Improving Academic Outcomes Among Adolescents study conducted at Chicago Public Schools discovered that, “By providing personalized instruction and coordinating closely with teachers, students, and families, tutors were able to complement in-classroom learning and help students progress two to three times faster than their peers.” Their findings discredited “conventional wisdom” by proving that it is not “too difficult or costly to substantially improve the academic skills of children who are behind once they reach high school.” 

Professional Development for Tutors

Regardless of whether tutors and students are meeting physically or via online platforms, schools must commit to supporting tutors so they, in turn, can properly assist students. This tutor support should involve ongoing training and professional development similar to what teachers are offered. 

As Education Week advises, “Include tutors in teacher professional learning. Whenever possible, have tutors attend curriculum-specific professional learning and training alongside teachers. This will build a shared investment in the materials and better prepare tutors with the knowledge and skills they need to accelerate instruction.”

Utilizing Feedback

Feedback is another vital element of a successful tutoring program. Ideally, teachers and students should have the ability to provide feedback directly to administrators through surveys or other means. Insightful, candid feedback regarding tutor performance helps schools gauge the success of individual tutors or groups, so that issues can be properly addressed in a timely manner. 

In conjunction with that, there should be mechanisms in place to use that received feedback and incorporate it into constructive feedback provided to the tutors, so they can adjust and improve as needed. 

Summary

The national teacher shortage is real, but so are the solutions — finding and training qualified, motivated tutors ready to engage students with high impact sessions…via virtual platforms (like tutoring platform Pearl), when needed. Implementing flexible online tutoring can quickly alleviate problems related to onboarding the right tutors and helps maintain consistency and motivation. Advanced platforms like Pearl were made to facilitate these types of lessons, so schools can deliver on-target tutoring where and when it is needed the most!

How ARP ESSER Is Changing the Tutoring Landscape

How ARP ESSER Is Changing the Tutoring Landscape

Learning loss is one of the most alarming impacts of the pandemic as COVID-19 upended — and continues to disrupt — day-to-day life in communities around the world. Initially, the pandemic led schools to shutter their doors and attempt improvised distance learning. Using curricula designed for in-person classrooms, educators with little to no online teaching experience struggled to adapt to the new stay-at-home model. 

Students logged in late or not at all. They grew distracted or tuned out of the lessons being presented. Some 1.1 million students were “lost” from the nation’s public schools, according to education nonprofit The 74. That student dropout crisis has since extended beyond K-12, with dismally low college enrollment figures showing nearly 1 million fewer students signing up for classes, per Inside Higher Ed

The unprecedented knowledge gap left in Covid’s wake is now combining with the worst national teacher shortage in recent history to form a perfect storm. These critical teacher shortages are adding fuel to a fire that continues to char our children’s educational futures. But there is one ray of hope that has managed to break through: the government-sponsored American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (APR ESSER) Fund. 

Among the resources being offered by APR ESSER are a myriad of tutoring-related initiatives aimed at helping school districts partner with tutors who can not only help mitigate the learning loss, but perhaps overcome it altogether. 

What is APR ESSER?

The American Rescue Plan was signed into law in March 2021, dedicating $1.9 trillion to addressing various Covid-related problems. Out of that jaw-dropping sum, an impressive $122 billion was earmarked for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. Some estimates are as high as $190 billion in total going to schools across the country. 

As noted on the ARP ESSER Fact Sheet, states were directed to disburse at least 90% of funds to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) to “[h]elp meet a wide range of needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including reopening schools safely, sustaining their safe operation, and addressing students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs resulting from the pandemic.” 

From their respective allocations, LEAs must use at least 20% of the funds granted to “address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and ensure that those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups.” 

These underrepresented subgroups are defined on the fact sheet as:

  • Each major racial and ethnic group
  • Children from low-income families
  • Children with disabilities
  • English learners
  • Gender
  • Migrant students
  • Students experiencing homelessness
  • Children and youth in foster care

But how are schools using their ARP ESSER funds to “address learning loss?” What are the “evidence-based interventions” being implemented, and how do administrators ensure those interventions are sufficiently responding to the myriad and complex needs of so many different student groups? 

As mentioned, tutoring has proven itself to be the best solution for these issues. That is why so many schools are using ARP ESSER funds to ramp up their tutoring programs on such large scales. They’re literally altering the landscape of the tutoring profession. 

How is APR ESSER tied to tutoring?

In the past, when the nation’s educational system faced troubles, the federal government tried to solve things by throwing money at the problem. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a fair example. Even though there were “pros” to the initiative, the list of “cons” overwhelmed the positive results. As posted by the NGO Vittana, “the structure of NCLB was more about money than student learning.” In fact, there were even instances of districts declining federal funds to avoid “bureaucratic nightmares” or being “liable for the outcomes.” 

Obviously the Department of Education wants schools to be comfortable accepting ARP ESSER funding, and it wants administrators to feel secure knowing what is expected when they do. That is one of the main reasons why access to ARP ESSER funds come with the strict criteria it does — so that schools don’t run afoul of the same mistakes again. Hence the need for utilizing “evidence-backed” strategies like tutoring. 

In the race to address learning loss in the face of twin predicaments — a pandemic followed by a national teacher shortage — tutoring has emerged as the clear winner, with plenty of supporting research behind it. 

How to implement effective, high impact tutoring with ARP ESSER funds?

One educational center leading the charge for tutoring research is the National Student Support Accelerator (NSSA), run by  The Annenberg Institute based at Brown University. NSSA declared its mission to “accelerate the growth of high impact tutoring opportunities for K-12 students in need.” Indeed, the Accelerator’s core values of “student-centered acceleration,” “equity-based,” and “evidence-backed” align perfectly with the demands of the ESSER. 

Tutoring, as defined by NSSA, “is a form of teaching, one-on-one or in a small group, towards a specific goal.” But, more specifically, NSSA advocates for high impact tutoring, which it claims “leads to substantial learning gains for students by supplementing (but not replacing) students’ classroom experiences. High impact tutoring responds to individual needs and complements students’ existing curriculum.” 

How do districts integrate high impact tutoring effectively? The National Student Support Accelerator lists five key features of effective tutoring which can serve as steps for districts to take when implementing programs. These steps are:

  1. Embed tutoring into school days (or immediately before or after)
  2. Schedule at least three 30-60 minute, high-impact sessions per week with 1-4 students per group
  3. Maintain tutor consistency and ensure tutors receive oversight and coaching
  4. Inform sessions via use of student progress data, when available (note, Pearl’s tutoring software is able to collect data points to help programs improve and show impact)
  5. Align materials with research and state standards

District Administration’s article “Do this, not that: Using ESSER funds for tutoring” suggests similar goals. In terms of implementing high-dosage tutoring programs, the five things they recommend for districts to prioritize are:

  1. Giving students more tutoring time 
  2. Building strong tutor-student relations
  3. Monitoring individual student progress
  4. Aligning tutoring sessions with the classroom curriculum 
  5. Quality engagement during sessions

School leaders should take note of both sets of guidelines as they go about putting their ESSER funds to good use. In its High Impact Tutoring Toolkit, NSSA offers advice to LEAs to ensure their programs are established “with fidelity and equitably across student populations.” LEAs are encouraged to create teams of key players who can set vision and strategy, monitor progress, and ensure district needs are being met. 

These teams are also responsible for finding and partnering with appropriate tutors who can match those high impact tutoring needs. In many cases, schools should consider online tutoring providers. After all, tutors don’t always have the flexibility to come out in-person three times a week for only a half hour at a time. When searching for quality tutors, it’s important to keep their interests in mind and not just the schools’. 

But the online format gives extra flexibility to students, too. Sometimes tutoring sessions must be done before or after school, making an online lesson more manageable, especially when parents’ schedules don’t allow them to alter the pick up and drop off times of their children. The key to effective tutoring is to make it accessible and convenient.  

Naturally, online tutors still need to align their work to complement the school’s curriculum. When tutors use only their own materials, it can increase student frustration and potentially lead to confusion. Thus, teachers should share with tutors which instructional materials they’re using, along with details on where the class is currently at and which areas tutored students are behind in. 

How is the tutoring industry changing because of APR ESSER?

In Pearl’s recent Pearls of Wisdom webinar interview with Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact, Steck discussed best practices for schools who are receiving APR ESSER funding to hire and train “rockstar tutors.” Given the large number of tutors needed in many districts, Steck suggests looking for qualified, trainable tutors in areas such as:

  • In-service teacher pools
  • Retired teachers 
  • Teacher aide undergraduates or graduate students 
  • Undergraduates majoring in subjects other than the ones needed
  • Community volunteers 
  • Organizations that employ tutors 

But finding tutors is only the first step. The trick is ensuring they are properly trained and monitored for performance. ARP ESSER funds can help in these areas. The extra funds allow for closer partnerships by providing schools the means and incentives to offer tutors professional development, better feedback for improvement, and better tools such as high-tech, online tutoring platforms (like Pearl). 

As Mr. Steck noted in the webinar, tutor training and performance monitoring are vital elements to success. He advises providing on-the-job training (or OJT) similar to in-service teacher coaching, along with timely feedback related to their instruction. The persons providing this feedback to tutors should speak with students and parents to garner their personal insights. Feedback providers may also refer to surveys, which can help schools gain deeper understanding into how well tutoring programs are working in relation to predetermined goals. 

Finally, tutoring feedback should be informed by data which can be drawn from using a system to track student growth over the course of sessions. Pearl works with educational institutions and tutoring companies who’ve received ARP ESSER funding to incorporate scalable tutoring software technology into their programs which can help capture such data. Pearl also offers educational institutions direct assistance to help them take advantage of ARP ESSER funds

These are just a few of the many changes in the world of tutoring, which can continue to evolve and align with district goals when APR ESSER funds are implemented in an informed and timely manner.

Hiring and Training Rockstar Tutors With Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact

Hiring and Training Rockstar Tutors With Patrick Steck of Deans for Impact

Pearl’s CRO Nate Casey recently conducted a broad-ranging interview with Patrick Steck, Senior Director of Policy for Deans for Impact, an organization committed to improving student learning outcomes by stewarding the transformation of educator preparation. Patrick also served as a legislative assistant in the Texas legislature and is currently on the front lines ensuring future educators learn what’s needed to become great teachers. 

Below are time stamped highlights and key takeaways from our February 28, 2022 webinar about hiring and training rockstar tutors. You can also find the video of the full webinar embedded at the bottom of this article. And don’t forget to sign up to receive notifications of future Pearls of Wisdom webinars!

Impacts of the nationwide teacher shortage 

[Timestamp 3:51]

As Casey points out during the interview, there is a huge demand for educators nationwide, with “over 50 million K-12 students and a need for over 3.5 million teachers.” Unfortunately, there aren’t enough teachers to go around, with the Learning Policy Institute calling the teacher shortage a “crisis” that’s “stretching schools to the breaking point.” 

An October 2021 survey by Education Week confirmed the severity of the teacher shortage crisis, highlighting dire feedback coming in from districts around the country, noting: 

  • 37% reported “moderate” shortages
  • 25% reported “severe” shortages
  • 15% reported “very severe” shortages

Steck says he isn’t surprised. “At the start of the school year, teachers reported levels of exhaustion that we might expect heading into the end of the school year.” One of the main reasons for that exhaustion has, of course, been the widespread and ceaseless disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the pandemic isn’t the only factor behind the dearth of teachers, it has obviously been a major one, with Covid driving up early teacher retirements by a whopping 26% in 2021. 

However, the federal government is fighting back, funding a range of timely programs to bring tutors in to fill the gaps. “The pandemic unleashed tremendous energy, resources, and plans around tutoring as a means to facilitate learning recovery,” Steck says on a positive note. 

From national service programs such as AmeriCorps grants to Federal Work Study programs, federal funds through ESEA and IDEA, and other relief funds such as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, there seems to be no shortage of available cash coming in. But simply throwing money at the problem isn’t enough. Districts must find and train the right tutors who can augment schools during the teacher shortage and beyond. 

But how do districts find such tutors in the first place?

How the tutoring landscape is evolving 

[Timestamp 49:55]

As Casey points out, America is experiencing a “Renaissance in tutoring.” From in-person to online services, tutoring is the evidence-based winner when it comes to addressing student learning loss effectively. And, as mentioned above, tutoring is also a viable solution for tackling the crippling national teacher shortage at the same time. For these reasons and more, tutors are hot commodities these days. 

But not all tutors are created equal and not every tutor is suitable for every district or student population. That is why both quality and variety are essential. Luckily, as Steck points out, there is a treasure trove of potentially excellent tutors out there who simply need the right training to evolve and help students succeed. 

Effective tutoring training should be:

  • Grounded in the best scientific understanding of how students learn, using evidence-based practices tutors can deploy
  • Arranged to ensure tutors can create equitable inclusive learning environments through relationships they build with students
  • Aligned to a well-sequenced curriculum, particularly for tutors who might not be in-service teachers and are earlier in their development
  • Sequenced so tutors can engage in ongoing professional development opportunities so they can improve their skills. 

Clearly schools have a lot of work to do to ensure the correct training and opportunities are provided. As education author Ron Berger noted in Edutopia, “Districts face a hard reality. Many children lost a great deal of academic growth last year. Districts need to know which students need extra support, including tutoring in and outside the classroom. But educators need to assess students’ abilities in a way that motivates them to grow.”

Once districts know what their students need and what they want tutors to know before starting, then it’s time to source those tutors. Alas, that’s not as easy as it sounds, because while teachers are in exodus mode, tutors are finding themselves in increasingly higher demand across the board. 

Building a roster of amazing tutors 

[Timestamp 11:45]

Districts around the country are eager to put their federal funding to work hiring tutors who can get started as soon as possible. But where should program leaders be looking for great tutors? 

Given the sheer amount of tutors needed (and the already existing demands on the most qualified tutors), Steck suggests considering traditional as well as overlooked alternative sources. 

Where to look for qualified, trainable tutors: 

  • In-service teacher pools
  • Retired teachers serving as paraprofessionals
  • Teacher aide undergraduates or graduates at university schools of education
  • Undergraduates majoring in subjects related, but not identical, to the ones needed
  • Qualified community volunteers 
  • Organizations that employ tutors 
  • Other sources, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and faith-based organizations

Mitigating risks of hiring tutors too quickly

[Timestamp 21:59]

When the government offers funding, school leaders feel they must act fast to allocate those dollars in a certain amount of time. But while trying to move quickly, they shouldn’t cut corners or they could end up squandering the resources made available by hiring the wrong tutors. 

Unfortunately, there’s an absence of any coordinated national effort, putting billions of relief dollars at risk of not being properly managed to produce effective results. It wouldn’t be the first time. Schools have been left in such conundrums before, of being offered funds but not knowing exactly how to properly utilize them. No district wants to repeat the mistakes of the past, such as with some of the poorly managed implementations of No Child Left Behind.  

Schools do want to hire quickly to meet deadlines, but need a feasible plan of action to do it right. They must ensure they’re using evidence-based strategies, as exemplified by the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator based at Brown University. The focus, as Steck discusses, should be on finding high-quality tutors from the previously-mentioned talent pools. However, when possible, he also recommends to “incentivize the use of teacher candidates as tutors,” because “creating opportunities for teacher candidates to tutor really is a win-win!” 

Best practices for vetting and monitoring tutors

[Timestamp 25:45]

After selecting the best sources for recruiting tutors, it’s time to vet the candidate pool. This involves knowing one’s district, its students, the unique challenges being faced, and the best ways to address those problems. Again, not every tutor fits readily into every situation, and so it is crucial to find candidates who are a strong match and who can align with both the needs and culture of the affected communities. In other words, it’s important to find tutors with the flexibility to adapt practices to student needs as well as to the requirements and conditions dictated by the school. 

Deans for Impact also promotes the idea of hiring tutors who possess a firm understanding of how the brain works, and a scientific understanding of how students learn. Simply being an expert in a needed subject doesn’t make a person suitable for tutoring children. The tutors must have a firm grasp of applicable pedagogy, as well as an awareness of the differences between teaching in-person and teaching online. 

After tutors are onboarded, Steck suggests monitoring and promoting tutor effectiveness to ensure positive student outcomes. 

Some methods to monitor a tutor’s performance include:

  • Providing on-the-job training, similar to in-service teacher coaching
  • Offering tutors timely, actionable feedback related to their instruction 
  • Establishing a system to track student growth for the length of the tutoring session
  • Speaking to students and parents to gain their insights and feedback about what’s working and what could be improved upon
  • Using surveys to obtain feedback from school leaders and teachers who can assess the tutors’ ability to support students and contribute to school culture
  • Applying incentives in a way that is meaningful to the tutor (not always monetary)

Summary

The knowledge gap has set some American students back by months, with underprivileged and underserved communities impacted harder than average. It’s up to educational leaders to implement the proper tutoring solutions…and to get things done right for students this time. We owe it to them, their futures, and their future families, who may be affected by the progress — of lack of progress — our efforts lead to in their lives. 

That is why Steck emphasized during our recent interview that his hopes are for tutoring to be “routinely available at no cost to students who need the additional support, especially those in communities historically underserved.” With luck and hard work, we’ll be able to continue the transformation of the tutoring industry so that, in ten years’ time or less, tutoring might “serve as a means for expanding and strengthening the pipeline of future teachers.” If successful, the nation might never face another teacher shortage again! 

Make sure you sign up to receive notifications of future Pearls of Wisdom webinars.

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part III): Tutoring Strategies and the Effectiveness of Remote Learning

Interview with Susanna Loeb (Part III): Tutoring Strategies and the Effectiveness of Remote Learning

Across the country, education leaders are scrambling to address the pandemic’s detrimental impacts on student learning. One of the biggest questions school districts are trying to answer is how to find the most effective tutoring strategies to combat learning loss

Dr. Susanna Loeb, director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, and her colleagues propose high-impact tutoring as the most promising, evidence-based solution. A second concern is whether online tutoring is proven to be as effective as in-person tutoring sessions. 

In our January 2022 Pearls of Wisdom webinar (embedded below), Dr. Loeb shared her thoughts on these vital questions with Pearl CRO Nate Casey.  We’ve summarized the webinar discussion into a three-part blog series to highlight Dr. Loeb’s key points. In Part I, we discussed the benefits of high-impact tutoring. In Part II, we reviewed Dr. Loeb’s work with the National Student Support Accelerator at the Annenberg Institute.  And now, in the third and final part of our webinar recap, we’ll be discussing the best tutoring strategies and comparing the effectiveness of online vs. in-person tutoring. 

Finding Effective Tutoring Strategies

In the webinar, Dr. Loeb revealed that she’s been “working with districts across the country to test the effectiveness of different approaches to tutoring (…) and to better understand the challenges of implementing high-impact tutoring to overcome those challenges.” 

Among the initial findings from the Annenberg Institute’s research was that “the desire to increase scale comes with a push to decrease quality.” That problem, in turn, quickly cascades into other issues such as assigning too many students per tutor, offering too few tutoring sessions per week, and providing insufficient coaching for tutors. 

By contrast, “high-impact tutoring focuses on quality,” by decreasing the number of students, increasing the frequency of tutoring sessions, and supporting tutors with training. Dr. Loeb noted, though, that “building tutoring into the school day can be tricky. Schools need to be creative to do this well.” 

The most effective tutoring times, her group found, were during homeroom or intervention periods, electives, or before and after school. However, having in-person tutors on hand during these times isn’t always easy, which is why the advantages of online tutoring options are being further explored.  

It is important to note that the problems with K-12 remote learning during the first year of the pandemic were not because online instruction is less effective; the issues were related to curricula not being designed for online lessons, teachers who lacked experience teaching online, and the use of platforms that weren’t designed for teaching in the first place. Online learning also suffered during the first part of the pandemic because of poor internet access and too few modern devices in the hands of underserved students.  These issues don’t necessarily apply to online tutoring, especially if the right tutoring platform is utilized. 

For High-Impact Tutoring to Work Online, Convenience Is Key

Accessibility is a crucial ingredient to making high-impact tutoring work. It also happens to be a key feature of online learning. Indeed, accessibility is one of the leading reasons why college students look for online degree programs. Per Inside Higher Ed, the Department of Education cited that “51.8 percent of students took at least one online course in 2019-20.” Among other benefits, there are no commutes involved, which saves time and energy.  

“Tutoring is an excellent way to increase equity in schools,” stated Dr. Loeb. “However, it can only do this if the students who need it the most get it. That is why it is important to offer tutoring as part of the school day for students who need it the most.” 

When attending tutoring sessions becomes a hassle, students and parents lose interest because access isn’t convenient. Convenience, therefore, is key — but scheduling in-person tutoring isn’t always convenient. That’s where flexible online sessions come into play. Online tutoring removes such barriers to access. So why aren’t more schools doing it?

“Most research on high-impact tutoring looks at in-person programs,” Dr. Loeb told us, noting EdResearch’s “Design Principles Series.” She added, however, that “we’ve seen a lot of virtual school work and virtual tutoring as a result of the pandemic and the initial evidence is very positive. Virtual tutoring can be very effective.” 

Dr. Loeb noted that tutoring during the day “can be virtual even if students are in school. Students would be in classrooms on computers, perhaps with a teacher monitoring the class while the tutors come in virtually.” She raised the idea that in-person sessions might be “ideal” when they “allow [tutors and students] to get to know each other better.” But even the most ideal scenario can’t be effective when all parties don’t show up. Strong tutoring relationships help address students’ academic needs, but this requires attendance and enthusiasm from all sides. 

The Importance of Tutoring Software

Reviewing benefits of online tutoring platforms and software like Pearl, Dr. Loeb pointed out that they “offer the possibility — through audio and video recordings of sessions, for example — of studying the interactions between students and tutors to see what is working and what isn’t.” This capability can greatly help tutors adjust their methods so their work is more effective with each student. 

“Technology-based programs could learn about students’ needs and make those tutors great on the academics while the students benefit from a much more diverse group of educators,” she said. “I’m excited for the learning that we can have from the tutoring that is going on at scale. I am excited about models that use new technologies so that the relationships can be even better and so that the tutor can focus on student needs.”

On How to Attract and Retain Tutors

Schools must not only ensure that tutoring sessions are convenient for students, but for tutors, as well. 

“Districts across the country are having trouble finding teachers, substitute teachers, and, relevant for us, tutors,” Dr. Loeb said. “They need to think about how they can attract and retain the tutors they need.” 

Perhaps the best way to entice qualified tutors is to offer remote work opportunities. This seems especially true given the fact that so many workers have fled the labor force during the “Great Resignation” and are looking for online work they can do from home. 

“A rural school looking for high school math tutors may be better off with virtual tutors,” Dr. Loeb said. “I wouldn’t rule out online tutoring, especially given the new evidence that it can be effective.” She went on to note that “it may be difficult for schools to find tutors with the skills they want — maybe they want tutors who speak a language other than English or tutors with strong high school math skills. In this case, they may attract tutors with these skills if they use online tutoring, but not if they use in-person tutoring.”

She also highlighted the difference between teacher and tutor education and training. “One of the great things about tutoring is that many people can be excellent tutors. Many people with less teaching experience or no teaching experience can also be exceptional tutors, especially if they get some initial training and have some coaching and oversight while teaching.” 

Final Thoughts

It seems certain there are many potential tutors out there just waiting for the right opportunities to come along where they can teach online. The challenge is integrating them into the school day and providing them with the most up-to-date resources so they can establish positive academic relationships with the students they tutor. This includes the right software (like Pearl!) to facilitate such positive learning experiences. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Part III recap of Dr. Susanna Loeb’s webinar with Pearl’s Nate Casey. If you missed them, don’t forget to check out Part I, How High-Impact Tutoring Helps At-Risk Students Impacted by COVID-19, and Part II on the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator. 

You can also watch the entire webinar below, and be sure to sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars!

VIRTUAL SUMMIT: "The Future of High-Impact Tutoring with AI" | June 5 from 12-3 pm ET
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