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
- 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:
- Embed tutoring into school days (or immediately before or after)
- Schedule at least three 30-60 minute, high-impact sessions per week with 1-4 students per group
- Maintain tutor consistency and ensure tutors receive oversight and coaching
- 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)
- 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:
- Giving students more tutoring time
- Building strong tutor-student relations
- Monitoring individual student progress
- Aligning tutoring sessions with the classroom curriculum
- 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.
Large federal government-funded programs can be confusing and daunting; the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, also known as ARP ESSER, is no exception. The ESSER was created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020. The CARES act addresses multiple macro issues. Providing ongoing support to elementary and secondary schools across the nation is placed alongside healthcare as an initiative of paramount importance. While there seems to be many resources available on this funding, most of those resources focus primarily on people navigating within state-based departments of education and local education agencies.
At Pearl, we regularly get asked questions by private companies about how they can participate in their state’s ARP ESSER-funded tutoring initiatives. Several of our clients are private companies stepping up to help mitigate COVID-19 related learning loss. If your tutoring company is prepared to scale quickly and you have a host of great instructors, you may qualify to be a sub-recipient of this funding.
How does the ARP ESSER fund work?
The most recent update to the ARP ESSER makes available $130 billion for K-12 schools. The funds are granted to the individual states for distribution to districts. The districts are given quite a bit of flexibility as needs in K-12 education vary widely: from foundational issues (like the need for more teachers) to specific COVID-elated concerns like significant learning loss. Even though districts generally have flexibility around how funds are applied, in some cases the ARP ESSER funding can dictate specific requirements. For example, districts must meet a benchmark of using at least 20% of their ARP ESSER funding towards mitigating COVID-related learning loss.
How can tutoring companies benefit from ARP ESSER funds?
This significant earmark for learning loss is allocated for evidence-based programs, especially 1-on-1 or small group tutoring initiatives. This is where private tutoring companies or organizations can come in and shine. Tutoring companies are eligible as a “subrecipient” because they can help support or supplement staffing tutor positions with qualified instructors.
The ARP ESSER allows for a wide range of entities to be included as potential subrecipients, including the actual Local Education Agencies, tutoring companies, academic support organizations, and any entity that meets the standards set forth to receive a subgrant per the federal government and individual state’s subgrant and procurement standards. In most cases, inquiries to participate as a subrecipient can be made directly to the State Education Agency (i.e the Department of Education).
To learn more about how to benefit from ARP ESSER funds as a tutoring company, register here for our upcoming webinar on Demystifying ARP ESSER Funding for Tutoring Companies at noon EST on Nov 5, 2021.
How Pearl can help educational institutions and tutoring companies take advantage of ARP ESSER funds
At Pearl, we focus on being the technical partner for ARP ESSER fund recipients implementing tutoring programs at scale. Our mission is to provide technical infrastructure and services for these programs via our tutoring management software which includes capabilities like: scheduling sessions, administrative tools, a virtual classroom experience optimized for tutoring, data collection, and robust reporting to track program effectiveness and overall impact.
Pearl will evolve quickly over the next couple of months. Between Q42021 and Q12022, we will be announcing partnerships with a state initiative and several prestigious universities to innovate:
- A new 1-to-small group online classroom
- Much more robust data reporting
- Enhanced post-session reports
- CRM (HR) capabilities to manage large cohorts of tutors more efficiently
If you are interested to learn more about these exciting projects, reach out to Pearl’s CRO Nate Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuity of learning is an important consideration in ensuring students’ performance during an extended absence. Think back to your first day of school after a long summer break. There’s a good chance that you wouldn’t perform very well if you took a test on last year’s knowledge right then and there. This reduction in performance is a well-documented phenomenon known as summer learning loss, and it’s the reason why there are summer classes or intervention programs.
Now scale up the problem to almost a year without school, and you get the learning loss associated with COVID-19. What’s more, besides the lack of schooling, many students were also unable to leave their homes at all during the pandemic, creating listless kids who couldn’t do anything else but stay cooped up at home.
What Is the Extent of COVID-19 Learning Loss?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the response across countries has varied, resulting in differences in how the pandemic-induced learning loss has occurred.
However, according to one study, learning loss is still present even in “best-case scenarios” such as the Netherlands, where lockdown was only 8 weeks long and educational funding and internet access are widespread. Even with these advantages, national examination results revealed that students suffered a loss of approximately 3 percentile points, which translates to about a fifth of a school year.
A study by the Asian Development Bank also shows that learning losses are proportionate to the length of school closure. In Pacific regions, schools remained mostly open, and experienced learning losses of about 8%. Meanwhile, South Asian schools were closed for much longer periods of time, resulting in learning losses of up to 55%!
A large body of research shows that American students were also strongly affected by learning losses. The NWEA showed that students who took the MAP Growth test in the fall of 2020 scored 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math assessments. Another testing company, Renaissance, demonstrated that students lost 7 points in math assessments and 1 point in reading assessments.
Furthermore, research by McKinsey during the early pandemic illustrated how learning loss may also impact future earnings for American students. Based on an epidemiological scenario where classes did not resume until January 2021 (closely mirroring the real-world results), McKinsey predicted losses of $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings for K-12 students.
Tutoring: A Powerful Tool to Combat COVID-19 Learning Loss
It’s clear that COVID-19 learning loss is a real problem with measurable results. Thankfully, there is a powerful tool in the arsenal of parents and educators to combat COVID-19 learning loss and improve student outcomes: tutoring.
Historically, attempts to scale up tutoring across all students have been met with resistance, owing to the financial resources involved in subsidizing tutoring costs for each student. However, with the threat of learning loss looming over every student in America, the government has begun efforts to expand tutoring programs to curb the learning loss fueled by the pandemic.
One such federal government-led effort is the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a $122 billion stimulus package, of which $25 billion is allocated to addressing learning loss. The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) recommends the implementation of programs that are proven to improve student outcomes, including high-impact tutoring.
What Are the Benefits of Tutoring?
Tutoring has long demonstrated its effectiveness in improving educational outcomes. In J-PAL’s meta-analysis of 96 studies on tutoring models, 80% of studies showed that tutoring causes improved outcomes for students. One standout example showed that two-to-one high school tutoring in Chicago accelerated students’ learning in math by as much as 1-2 years! Overall, students experienced an improvement of about 0.37 standard deviations, which translates to a 50th percentile student being bumped up to the 66th percentile.
And this isn’t limited to in-person tutoring. One study showed how online tutoring can cause improvements in test results for students. Another study of Italian middle school students demonstrated that three hours of weekly online tutoring caused a 4.7% increase in math, English, and Italian test scores. This improvement doubled when the duration of weekly tutoring was doubled as well.
What Can Parents Do For Their Child’s Tutoring Needs?
While the education world is finally catching on to the potential benefits of tutoring students to combat learning loss, government action plans may take some time to implement. If you want to minimize your child’s learning losses now, private tutoring is the best course of action. Here are important steps to take to address this issue for your child:
1. Get Professional Private Tutors
The J-PAL study showed that who does the tutoring is a big factor in student outcomes. Trained teachers and professional tutors showed greater outcomes than tutoring programs that were delivered by nonprofessionals and caregivers. It’s important, therefore, to select a tutoring company that uses trained professional tutors to support your child’s needs.
2. Invest in Frequent, Small-Scale Tutoring
Two factors stand out in determining the success of tutoring—the ratio of students to tutors, where one-on-one is best, and the frequency of tutoring. Research has shown that high-dosage tutoring (HDT), defined as one-on-one tutoring three times a week, demonstrates excellent results in improving students’ grades. In contrast, a study showed that four-to-one tutoring resulted in no effects on student outcomes, on average.
One-on-one tutoring costs more, as do more frequent sessions. However, this is a critical part of ensuring the success of your child’s tutoring and preventing the much more costly long-term effects of learning loss on their educational journey and lifetime earnings.
3. The Earlier, the Better
Saga Education, a nonprofit educational consulting company, found that early elementary students strongly benefited from high-frequency tutoring programs compared to late elementary students in reading tutoring. So even your younger children certainly stand to gain from starting early.
Tackle COVID-19 Learning Loss Now
The effects of learning loss compound with time as they remain unaddressed. At the same time, schools are being met with repeated re-openings and closures due to repeated outbreaks, further interrupting the return to normalcy.
To protect your child against learning loss, it’s best to put them on a tutoring program right away to ensure that their learning is supported continuously.
For best results, you should work with a tutoring company that only provides professionally-trained tutors with individualized learning plans for each student as the best student outcomes come from instruction that is tailored to each child’s particular strengths and weaknesses.