PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted teaching and learning at elementary, middle and high schools across the United States, leaving millions of already disadvantaged students in danger of falling further behind academically. But with help from researchers and education leaders, led by a team at Brown University, many of those students may soon get assistance.
In winter 2021, Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform launched the National Student Support Accelerator, a multi-institution initiative aimed at equalizing access to high-quality tutoring. The accelerator team — a diverse group of education faculty from Brown and across the U.S., current and former school district administrators, tutoring organization leaders and consultants from education nonprofits and think tanks — plans to support more than 4,500 American school districts and nonprofits over the next five years, equipping them with the tools to use research-based practices to implement and improve tutoring programs.
“The pandemic closed a lot of schools and in the process created even greater inequalities in the access students have to good educational opportunities,” said Susanna Loeb, a professor of education at Brown who directs the Annenberg Institute. “Many students weren’t able to connect, both metaphorically — as in, they found virtual learning very difficult — and literally — as in, they didn’t have internet access or the right technology. We came in thinking: ‘What is out there that could really accelerate the learning of students in need so that they don’t lose months or years of progress?’”
Loeb said that after an exhaustive review of recent research and interviews with approximately 50 experts in the field, faculty and staff affiliated with the Annenberg Institute found overwhelming evidence that tutoring is the most effective way to boost learning outside of the classroom, particularly in elementary school reading and high school math. At least a dozen major studies from the last decade have shown that consistent, high-quality, one-on-one tutoring has not only significantly boosted students’ standardized test scores but has also provided them with the equivalent of several months of additional classroom time.
“Of all the academic interventions people have studied in-depth, tutoring has been shown to be the most effective,” Loeb said. “That one-on-one connection with another person can help students really get the material they haven’t gotten before. It improves their performance in certain subjects by whole grade levels, and it can also improve their attendance and their performance in other subjects. Students think, ‘Oh, if I can do math, maybe I can do English and science, too.’”
But private tutoring — estimated to be a $173 billion global industry in 2020, according to the market research company Global Industry Analysts — has traditionally not been accessible to many students from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. And even when it is available, Loeb said, it isn’t always high-quality or effective. Research shows that the most effective tutoring programs give tutors advance training on best practices and require them to meet with students three to four times a week — but in many programs, tutors’ training and teaching approaches are scattershot, and one-on-one instruction doesn’t happen often enough for students to see progress.