March 8, 2021

For Tutoring The Best Of Times, And The Pretty Good Of Times, Too, But Some Risk…

By Bellwether

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If I put on my hat as someone who is concerned about the way the Covid school disruption, and Covid more generally, has disproportionally affected some students and communities then I see all the attention to tutoring pretty clearly one way: It’s an important remedy to help kids who need help, right now.

If I put on a different hat, as someone who wants to see good interventions, like tutoring, deployed as part of a more seamless and customized web of supports for kids, not just now but moving forward, then it’s different. In this case I see all the attention to tutoring and high-dosage tutoring as a mixed blessing.

Why? Hardly anyone doubts the efficacy of well-designed tutoring initiatives. Here’s a just released today study on that point (more from The 74 here). Rather, the issue is what happens if there is a gold rush or an effort to scale these programs rapidly or just do tutoring everywhere. When that happens in our sector, traditionally, a few things follow. First, fidelity to what makes something effective goes out the window. That’s obviously not a reason not to pursue an intervention that can help. It is, though, a reason to be intentional in crafting policy and rigorous about practice.

That’s because, second, usually the evaluations come back later and find no effect. This is because evaluating broad funding streams rarely turns up significant effects, we’re bad at thinking about differences in differences, and most fundamentally when you spread everything around you don’t get focus or efficacy. We saw this most recently on school turnarounds, where the overall results, and general discrediting of the idea, obscured some pretty important nuance about what worked and didn’t. Also small schools, a host of things around ELL and dual language, various curricular reforms, the list is long.

The so what? If you’re a tutoring advocate you should be excited, concerned, and probably most of all aware right now.

Recent, and not so recent, tutoring content: My caution on this, Goldstein Going Wild about tutoring, a Samuel Freedman tutoring story from back in the day, Slavin on tutoring risks and solutions, here comes the great Susanna Loeb!

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