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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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!
By now, every educator in America has seen firsthand the results of learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While covid has negatively impacted most students, it has especially exacerbated pre-existing educational inequities for low-income and other at-risk students. The impacts of the pandemic on the educational system are both immediate and long-term, as alarming news headlines such as “Learning loss to become $17 Trillion in earning loss for students not in school” become all-too-common.
Dr. Susanna Loeb, the Director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, has been leading discussions among academics who’ve offered very promising evidence-based solutions to combat learning loss. In our January 2022 Pearls of Wisdom webinar interview with Dr. Loeb (embedded below), she shared exciting details of her organization’s work with Pearl’s Chief Revenue Officer Nate Casey. We’ve summarized the discussion into a three-part blog series to highlight the webinar’s key points. In Part I, we discussed the benefits of high-impact tutoring and now, in Part II, we’ll be summarizing Dr. Loeb’s work with the National Student Support Accelerator at the Annenberg Institute.
Learning Loss: A Pandemic-Fueled Crisis
“Early in the pandemic, it became clear that the disruptions to schools—and the economic and health shocks to families—were going to create severe challenges for many students,” Dr. Loeb noted in the webinar interview. “Some students thrived at home and in online settings, but others experienced extreme hardship and were fundamentally disengaged from school.”
After meeting with educators and education thought-leaders to review the problem, Dr. Loeb and her colleagues found the ideal solution. “We quickly identified tutoring as a high-potential option for catching students up, re-engaging them in school, and broadly reducing some of the striking and expanding inequalities.”
“Tutoring,” she stated, “quickly rose to the top of the list of potential solutions because of the large body of research pointing to its effectiveness in catching students up across grade levels and content areas. Research also shows specific success in supporting those students who are furthest behind.”
Dr. Loeb was quick to point out, however, that simply throwing money at the problem has never been an effective approach. “Many of us remembered the No Child Left Behind era in which billions of dollars were spent on a different type of tutoring that turned out not to be terribly effective or equitable.” Her group’s goal was to avoid such wasteful outcomes while addressing other challenges simultaneously.
Enter: the National Student Support Accelerator
Dr. Loeb and her peers needed a solution that would remain effective while scaling. “We were aware that tutoring on a large scale had been attempted before, but with low quality and poor results,” she noted. To tackle the issue, the Annenberg Institute proposed to launch the National Student Support Accelerator to scale high-quality, high-impact tutoring. “Our mission at the Accelerator is to increase access to high-impact tutoring for K-12 students in need,” she stated, clarifying how the work will involve “conducting and coordinating research to know more about what makes tutoring effective and cost-effective” and “what enabling conditions allow it to scale.”
Another vital attribute of the Accelerator is collaboration across the board to ensure everyone is actively working toward goal achievement. “We work to engage and activate stakeholders to support districts and states to implement high-impact tutoring more easily,” Dr. Loeb said before transitioning to the numerous features and benefits of the Accelerator program.
The Accelerator’s Resources and Tools for High-Impact Tutoring
“The Accelerator has a range of tools to support the implementation of high-impact tutoring that are available free on our website,” affirmed Dr. Loeb. “Each of the tools is developed with the field to ensure they are practical and easy to use.”
Below is a summary of each currently available tutoring resource:
“Toolkit for Tutoring provides guidance for creating a high-impact tutoring program or improving an existing program. It will take you step by step through the process, including identifying needs, and all the way to sample letters to send to parents and job descriptions.”
“The District Playbook provides guidance for districts interested in implementing high-impact tutoring. It has everything from checklists of how to plan for tutoring or how to partner with a tutoring organization to what type of human resource capacity is required to be successful.”
Specifically, the free, downloadable Playbook shows users how to develop and launch programs via the following steps: Lay the Foundation, Plan for Effective Operations, Design for Impact, and Implement High-Impact Tutoring.
Created for High-Impact Tutoring Advocacy, the Educator Guide “provides educators with the information and tools to understand the value of high-impact tutoring and how it might work at their district or school how to encourage their district or school to consider adopting high-impact tutoring.”
This useful guide was made in conjunction with the Tutoring Advisory Group and offers sample emails, program examples, FAQs, presentations, talking points, and a one-pager about the benefits of the Accelerator.
The free Tutoring Quality Improvement System “allows tutoring programs to quickly assess their program against a set of research-based quality standards and provides detailed recommendations for how to improve their program’s quality.”
The Annenberg Institute publishes its research on tutoring to date, along with “priority questions to guide for future learning.” Additional research soon to be released includes data on Early Literacy programs and more.
Given that low-income families were hit hardest by the pandemic (with impacts including profound student learning loss and increased school absenteeism), the National Student Support Accelerator “envisions a time when every student in need has access to an effective tutor who champions and ensures their learning and success.” We wish the best of success for this urgently-needed national program.
Stay tuned for Part III of our recap of the webinar with Dr. Susanna Loeb which offers an insightful comparison of online and in-person tutoring effectiveness and reviews the best tutoring strategies.
You can also watch the entire webinar below, and be sure to sign up to be notified about Pearl’s upcoming webinars!
Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the combined consequences on health, the economy, and K-12 schools started to take their toll. Students around the country found themselves attending classes online from home, but while some thrived, many experienced hardships and struggled to stay engaged. The pandemic’s effects were especially hard on students from low-income families, with impacts such as more profound learning loss, wider knowledge gaps, and increased absenteeism.
The country is now well into its third year coping with this continuing crisis, and many valuable lessons have been learned along the way. Several academic organizations have researched the above-mentioned impacts that remote learning has had on at-risk students and have explored ways to address the damage of learning loss and mitigate it moving forward. One such institute is the Annenberg Institute at Brown University in Rhode Island, whose director, Dr. Susanna Loeb, is featured in a Pearls of Wisdom webinar on our YouTube channel (full video embedded below).
This article will summarize some of the key points on high-impact tutoring that Dr. Loeb made in the January 2022 webinar with our CRO Nate Casey. In the webinar, Dr. Loeb noted that “studies across the nation have shown that students this year are significantly behind similar students in their pre-pandemic learning.” Among the many studies which support her claim is one from curriculum provider Amplify. Amplify’s research revealed that of ~400,000 kindergartners whose data was reviewed, only 37% were on track in their early reading skills, equating to an 18% drop from pre-pandemic years. It further observed that students’ learning loss “due to COVID may have life-long consequences if they are not provided with additional instructional support.”
The McKinsey report further cited that the “pandemic widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest.” Black students experienced particularly harmful effects, with “six months of unfinished learning” in math alone (and seven months for those in low-income schools).
As a result, McKinsey projected that affected high school students are more likely to drop out and seniors are less likely to attend college. As a result, long-term effects might likely include significantly lower lifetime earnings and putting future generations at risk by perpetuating a cycle of educational and economic obstacles.
To break the cycle, Dr. Loeb has met with educators and education leaders to discuss and identify solutions. Chief among the listed possible solutions is tutoring. “Tutoring rose to the top,” asserted Dr. Loeb in the webinar, “because of the large body of research pointing to its effectiveness in catching students up across grade levels and content areas.” She praised tutoring as a “high-potential option for catching students up, re-engaging them in school, and broadly reducing some of the striking and expanding inequalities.”
However, tutoring is not without its own challenges, which is why Dr. Loeb and others aim to avoid the mistakes of past decades. “Many of us remember the No Child Left Behind era in which billions were spent on a type of tutoring that turned out not to be terribly effective or equitable,” she cautioned. She also acknowledged the challenge of scaling tutoring efforts to a magnitude large enough to make a difference.
To address these hurdles, Dr. Loeb suggests a method known as high-impact tutoring. “Effective tutoring requires more than just high-dosage (the amount of tutoring a student participates in). The consistency of the tutor, the tutor’s training and ongoing coaching, and the use of data and high-quality materials for instruction are also important to ensure effectiveness.”
In the webinar, Dr. Loeb reviewed the hallmarks of high-impact tutoring, which include:
Embedded tutoring – done during the school day, a minimum of 3 days per week
Use of small groups – up to 3 students
Use of student learning data – to inform tutoring sessions and focus lessons on student needs, thus accelerating learning
Consistency – using tutors who are trained and supported, resulting in positive and effective tutor-student relationships
Discussing these highlights, Dr. Loeb noted the key element of maintaining quality while scaling. “The desire to increase scale tends to come with a push to decrease quality, increasing the number of students per tutor or decreasing the number of times per week or not providing coaching for tutors.” For this reason, she emphasizes “high-impact instead of high-dosage” approaches.
“High-impact programs provide a lot of tutoring with quality,” she stated in the webinar. “It is clearly better to give a smaller number of students really high-quality tutoring than all students low-quality tutoring to increase equity.”
“The benefit of tutoring,” she continued, “comes from two mechanisms: the close relationship that students and tutors develop, and the focus on the individual student’s specific needs. The tutor has to have the data and take the time to know what the student knows and doesn’t know.” Homing in more on the importance of data, she pointed out that “high-impact tutoring uses formative assessments to understand what students know and don’t know.” Thus, data is vital “to identify and address issues and to continuously improve.”
In closing, Dr. Loeb reiterated how modern research offers ample proof in support of her proposals. “Rarely in research do we have so much evidence pointing to the promise of a specific intervention. High-impact tutoring is really the only intervention that has proven effectiveness across a range of grade levels, content areas, and locations. The driving force behind its effectiveness is the excellent relationships tutors and students develop. Our goal at the Annenberg Institute is to provide all students with the same access to high-impact tutoring.”
Stay tuned for Parts II and III of our recap of Dr. Susanna Loeb’s webinar with Pearl’s Nate Casey. These upcoming articles will review how the Annenberg Institute’s National Student Support Accelerator aims to help students recover from learning loss (in Part II), and will offer a comparison of online and in-person tutoring effectiveness and how to find the most effective tutoring strategies (in Part III).
You can also watch the full webinar below and be sure to sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars!