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News / Nation & World

Many American kids need tutoring help; few get it

Survey: Half of children behind grade level in at least one subject

By Chalkbeat and The Associated Press
Published: March 12, 2023, 2:00pm

David Daniel knows his son needs help.

The 8-year-old spent first grade in remote learning and several weeks of second grade in quarantine. The best way to catch him up, research suggests, is to tutor him several times a week during school.

But his Indianapolis school offers Saturday or after-school tutoring — programs that don’t work for Daniel, a single father.

His son, now in third grade, isn’t getting the tutoring he needs.

“I want him to have the help,” Daniel said. Without it, “next year is going to be really hard on him.”

As America’s schools confront dramatic learning setbacks caused by the pandemic, experts have held up intensive tutoring as the best antidote. Yet even as schools wield billions of dollars in federal COVID relief, a small fraction of students have received school tutoring, according to a survey of the nation’s largest districts by the nonprofit news organization Chalkbeat and The Associated Press.

In eight of 12 school systems that provided data, less than 10 percent of students received any type of district tutoring last fall. To compare, in a federal survey, school officials said half of all U.S. students started this school year behind grade level in at least one subject.

A new tutoring corps in Chicago has served about 3 percent of students, officials said. The figure was less than 1 percent in three districts: Georgia’s Gwinnett County, Florida’s Miami-Dade County, and Philadelphia, where the district reported only about 800 students were tutored. In those three systems alone, there were more than 600,000 students who spent no time in a district tutoring program last fall.

‘It works. It’s effective’

The low figures point to several problems. Some parents said they didn’t know tutoring was available or didn’t think their children needed it. Some school systems have struggled to hire tutors. Other school systems said the small tutoring programs were intentional, part of an effort to focus on students with the greatest needs.

Whatever the reason, the impact is clear: At a crucial time for students’ recovery, millions of children have not received the academic equivalent of powerful medication.

“It works. It’s effective. It gets students to improve in their learning and catch up,” said Amie Rapaport, a University of Southern California researcher who has analyzed students’ access to intensive tutoring. “So why isn’t it reaching them?”

The Indianapolis school district last year launched two tutoring programs that connect students with certified teachers over video. One is available to all students after school, while the other is offered during the day at certain low-performing schools.

District officials say a trial run boosted student test scores. Parents give it high marks.

“The progress that he made in just a couple months last semester working with his tutor was kind of far beyond what he was grasping and doing at school,” said Jessica Blalack, whose 7-year-old, Phoenix, opted in to after-school tutoring.

Still, the two programs combined served only about 3,200 students last fall, or roughly 17 percent of students in district-run schools. Two additional tutoring programs operate at a handful of schools.

Only 35 percent of the students who registered for after-school tutoring last fall attended more than one session, according to district data.

Indianapolis Public Schools spokesperson Marc Ransford said the district is working to improve attendance and hopes to enroll more students in tutoring next school year. It’s also trying to accelerate student learning in other ways, including with a new curriculum and summer school.

Nationwide, schools report that about 10 percent of students are receiving “high-dosage” tutoring multiple days a week, according to a federal survey from December.

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