In education circles today it is nearly impossible to bring up the COVID learning losses and potential remedies without tutoring being thrown out there. But it’s not just any tutoring that is being mentioned, it is what academics are terming “high-impact” or “high-dosage” tutoring.
While there is no formal origin story for tutoring, one possible theory is that it started in Ancient Greece with a documented relationship between Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Tutoring is generally understood as a form of private instruction conducted one-on-one or in a limited group. The tutor typically has an in-depth understanding of a subject or content area that the tutee’s are looking to learn or might be struggling with. Given the small group nature of tutoring, it is often seen as something that is reserved for wealthier families.
With over $100 billion sent to public schools across the country to reopen and help children recover from the pandemic learning losses, tutoring is being touted as a leading solution to help children make-up for lost instructional time. Despite the debates around whether virtual tutoring works or not, high-impact tutoring seems to have more alignment and be less controversial.
An accepted premise of high-impact tutoring is that not all tutoring is effective, and if structured in an appropriate way, tutoring can be effective and affordable. However, there are a handful of non-negotiable elements for the tutoring to be labeled “high-impact,” namely:
None of the elements are particularly difficult to grasp. Perhaps that’s why tutoring is getting its fair share of air time in the national discourse around remedies for the pandemic losses. A 2021 EdWeek survey revealed that 97 percent of school districts across the country shared that tutoring was already offered or soon to be offered to at least one-third of their students.
The interest in tutoring, though, hasn’t translated into unequivocal adoption of high-impact tutoring with school districts using some of the federal relief dollars going towards less-tested methods of tutoring like 24/7 online tutoring. What might be a combination of easy-to-grasp elements may just be easier in theory than in practice. Nonetheless, the evidence is clear and the benefits go beyond just catching students up, as districts see it as an opportunity to bolster teacher pipelines. Given the massive disruption caused by COVID, there is little room to turn away something effective because of the hard work.