In late March, the Ohio Department of Education announced a grant program aimed at developing and expanding tutoring for K–12 students in the wake of pandemic-caused learning losses. The program specifically focuses on high-dosage tutoring (HDT), which research shows can produce large learning gains for students. The Department plans to distribute up to $20 million in federal Covid relief funding to both public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities. Only institutions of higher education (IHEs) that have teacher preparation or education programs are eligible for funding, but IHEs that don’t have such programs can still participate by partnering with those that do.
At first glance, it might seem odd for the state to provide tutoring funds to postsecondary institutions rather than K–12 schools. But there are two reasons why state leaders were wise to structure the program in this way. First, it addresses one of the biggest barriers to establishing an effective, statewide tutoring program: finding enough tutors. Schools often struggle to recruit the adults needed to maintain a robust tutor pipeline. That’s especially true for HDT, which is an intensive model that requires one-on-one or small-group instruction at least three days a week. By tapping into IHEs, Ohio is following in the footsteps of other states that leveraged college students to meet pipeline demands. Second, by focusing on IHEs with teacher preparation or education programs, Ohio can meet two needs at once. Not only will K–12 schools have access to a robust pipeline of tutors, teacher candidates who serve as tutors will gain hands-on instructional experience and training.
By preempting the tutor pipeline issue, Ohio has at least partly addressed how to make HDT possible on a broad scale. But what about the other side of the equation, which is making HDT effective? Grant awardees weren’t notified until mid-May, which means programs will likely gear up this summer at the absolute earliest. As such, it’s impossible to gauge effectiveness yet. But a quick look at the program design requirements outlined in the state’s request for applications (RFA) indicates that state leaders took some good first steps at setting up HDT programs for success. Here’s a look at a few of the highlights.
Curriculum and instruction
The RFA calls for colleges and universities to focus on math and/or literacy tutoring for K–12 students that’s aligned to Ohio’s Learning Standards and uses evidence-based, high-quality instructional materials. The state doesn’t identify specific curricula or materials that must be used, but it does offer several resources. Applicants must also include details on how they plan to use data-driven decision-making to maximize the number of students they serve, including identifying students who are considered most at-risk.
Training and supporting tutors
There aren’t a ton of specific guidelines for applicants in this regard, but the RFA does specify that tutors should have background checks, and that those who have been “appropriately trained in effective pedagogy and demonstrated content knowledge” should be given “priority” in hiring decisions. As for tutor training, it should cover topics such as effective math teaching practices, evidence-based literacy strategies, strategies for student behavior management, data collection and progress monitoring, and tutor-student relationships.
Operations and collaboration
The RFA requests details on several operational aspects of proposed programs. For example, applicants are asked to provide an anticipated schedule that describes the frequency, duration, and location of tutoring sessions, as well as the number of students who will be tutored. They must also establish a process for how the K–12 school and postsecondary institution will communicate student progress to teachers and parents. In terms of collaboration, IHEs and partnering schools are tasked with designing programs to be mutually beneficial for K–12 students (who receive tutoring services) and participating college students (who could benefit from field experience, stipends, volunteer hours, course credit, or loan forgiveness).
Sustainability and evaluation
The downfall of many grant programs is that once funding runs out, the program ceases to operate, even if it’s had a positive impact on students. To avoid this, IHEs and their partner schools are tasked with working together to identify which elements of the program could be sustained after the grant. As for evaluation, IHEs and their partner schools must develop a monitoring system that gauges the effectiveness of the program, including student outcomes in math and literacy. Grantees are required to participate in state evaluation activities.
State leaders deserve kudos for not only recognizing the potential of HDT, but for taking steps to address tutor pipeline barriers and setting clear standards for applicants. Now, the focus must shift to ensuring that HDT programs are implemented rigorously so that students can reap the benefits.