During the 2022 holiday, Southwest’s antiquated tool, SkySolver, and various internal processes collapsed. It was not a matter of broken software that caused this unforgettable meltdown. A strategy to deal with a disruptive storm was undermined by a lack of modern automation and poor user experience. It was simply not possible for Southwest to handle the sheer volume of changes and coordination required without a modern digital infrastructure. In addition, Southwest lacked a central hub for gathering resources, regrouping, and finding a way out of the chaos. These problems are not unique to Southwest. Companies across all industries should evaluate their dependence on homegrown systems, especially those built on antiquated mainframe computers.
Reflections on the Disaster
Our team closely monitored Southwest’s situation as well as the subsequent collapse of the FAA’s ability to keep the entire US flying. We arrived at the conclusion that our platform, in many ways, serves a similar function to an airline. In several meetings, we reflected on the fact that what we do as a company (like an airline) is provide our partners with a reliable set of solutions that empower them to tutor thousands of students each day.
Witnessing a Fortune 500 company collapse due to inadequate logistical automation was humbling, but also incredibly insightful. We talked about how the heart of our mission is simply making sure tutors and students can be together (attendance). Consistently bringing people together is the crucial first step in preventing a catastrophic and possibly generational failure in academic human rights.
How is the Airline Industry Like Tutor Program Management?
Picking up a loved one
Service being delivered
It takes a great deal of coordination and effort to run a massive tutoring initiative. Administrators (operations in a central hub) coordinate school schedules, deal with HR issues, and help parents(like a family member waiting for an arrival) who are confused or unhappy for various reasons. Each session “takes flight” under the direction of these administrators, ensuring that every student receives the support they need. Tutors (like pilots) show up in rooms without students, looking for administrators or tutor coaches to fill the void of a student’s absence.
Teachers (like ground crew) keep an eye on their clocks to make sure students receiving tutoring are in the right place at the right time. There are times when students(like travelers) need to miss class or navigate to another tutoring venue which may be outside their regular schedule. In order for online learners to login at the right time, they need to be reminded or sent messages. There are times when tutors have to be substituted because of cancellations. While all of this is happening, the world and policymakers are waiting for results. Administrators are charged with the difficult task of making sure consistent standard data is collected so that the overall health of the program can be evaluated for its impact and for its many opportunities for improvement.
Behind all of the many wonderful stories about tutoring as a source to promote academic progress are a group of people dedicated to managing the overwhelming logistical components.
Running a tutoring program that leverages thousands of tutors serving tens of thousands of students requires:
Designing a logic model with clear definitions and alignment on Needs, Inputs, Actions, Outputs, and Impact
Thoughtfully matching students with the best tutor – leveraging logistical data and evidence based data points that have proven better outcomes
Familiarizing tutors with the technology used to coordinate logistics, communicate efficiently, teach with clarity, run assessment, and collect the right data (attendance, dosage, academic progress, and social-emotional-learning insights)
On a daily basis, making sure every scheduled student spends time with their tutor
Leveraging 360 feedback loops to make on-the-fly changes to improve program design
Reflecting on outcomes to optimize for success in the next cycle
One of the most critical industries in this country failed millions of users because of legacy systems and poor operational design. It is imperative that we do not let the tutoring industry, which is just as vital to our country’s future, suffer the same fate.
The heroes that run our nation’s massive tutoring programs deserve:
Highly secured cloud-based software for efficient program implementation (rostering, matching, seamless communications, data collection, and much more)
Modern technology that evolves in real time (with partner collaboration) affording administrators the technical scaffolding to constantly make their lives easier
In-app chat to ensure all end-users that experience technical difficulties have a human ready to help at a moments notice
Most importantly, a technical partner that listens every day, and works tirelessly with partners to explore ways to improve: automation, user experiences, and student achievement
While some state agencies, non-profits, and district leaders viewed the ARP-ESSER dollars as a stop-gap measure to learning loss, others developed programs that could help fundamentally change K-12 education. At Pearl, we refer to these evidence-based, sustainable tutoring programs as Community Tutoring Partnerships.
A Community Tutoring Partnership is any funded state, district, or non-profit organization that leverages the tutoring resources of their community to serve schools within that community. These programs focus on evidence-based practices (like High-Impact-Tutoring) to support local schools to prove results and make their program(s) sustainable.
Community Tutoring Partnership programs often leverage universities as the core supplier of qualified tutors. Universities can offer a wide range of talented, energetic students as tutors. Education students, in particular, are great tutors. They have the interests and the need to gain real-world teaching experience. With university students as their primary tutoring resource, program managers can augment their tutoring group with additional support from retired teachers, volunteers, and federally funded groups like Americorps.
If done correctly, community tutoring partnerships can foster a sense of pride and ownership within the community. By working together to support the academic success of K/12 students, universities and schools can demonstrate their commitment to the local community. They can help build stronger, more supportive relationships with families and other community members. This can create a sense of shared responsibility for student success and improve student outcomes.
At Pearl, we have seen the success of these community tutoring partnerships firsthand through our work with the nation’s largest and most innovative programs. From our partners in Illinois & South Dakota to Virginia & North Carolina, evidence-based community programs are answering the call and investing in the future of their communities.
Pearl is excited to announce it has been awarded $250,000 in a competitive grant that will increase interoperability between tutor data and district systems via single-sign-on rostering and school-information-system integrations. Pearl will use the funding to support partners including the Illinois Tutoring Initiative, a statewide program, and enterprise tutoring platform, OnYourMark serving the Texas area.
The award, presented by nonprofit organization Accelerate, is part of a broader national effort to develop and scale sustainable, cost-effective models for high-impact tutoring that boosts academic achievement for all students. The Annenberg Institute at Brown University will act as the research body that will study the impact of Accelerate’s grant to Pearl.
“Pearl is honored to partner with Accelerate to combat learning loss and help bring sustainability to tutoring,” says John Failla, CEO. “Our platform is rooted in the core values of relationships, research and efficacy. This grant money will help us to continue our research-based approach to filling the current gaps in high-impact tutoring programs across the United States.”
Pearl is one of 31 research and education partners selected to receive the award, as well as to join a community to share best practices and resources and ultimately help inform Accelerate’s national research and policy agenda.
“We know that good tutoring programs work — partly because well-off families have used them to boost student success for generations. And we know that those same programs can be a powerful tool to close racial and economic opportunity gaps when we give less privileged students the same access. What we haven’t figured out yet is how to make high-impact tutoring available for everyone,” said Accelerate CEO Kevin Huffman. “With districts deciding how to spend one-time federal funds to combat the effects of the pandemic, solving that challenge has never been more urgent.”
Accelerate’s announcement of the inaugural cohort of grantees follows a competitive national selection process. In spring 2022, Accelerate, as part of its launch, released a Call to Effective Action to recruit partners to help it design, launch, and scale high-impact tutoring efforts and to build a community committed to impact and to shaping the evidence base for tutoring. Partners interested in the initiative were asked to first submit a letter of intent outlining their high-level vision. Following review of more than 200 letters by a panel of diverse experts, finalists were selected and invited to submit a full-length proposal. Beyond the inaugural cohort of grantees, Accelerate will continue to make additional investments in tutoring innovation over time.
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!
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.
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.
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!”
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)
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!
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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!