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Building Toward Effective High-Dosage Tutoring Programs: Lessons Learned From 3 Successful Districts

Districts across the country had to abruptly shift schooling models amid the COVID-19 pandemic—and most have deeply felt the impact that shift has had on student learning and performance. As they enter the second half of the ESSER funding period, more than two-thirds of the largest U.S. school systems are combating this loss by putting ESSER dollars toward tutoring, according to FutureEd.

In July 2022, ERS released a strategy guide titled, "Using ESSER Funds for High-Dosage Tutoring," which aimed to help district leaders consider the essential decisions they could make now to build toward highly effective, districtwide tutoring programs. The guide provides a research-backed overview of components and strategies that make tutoring sustainable long-term.

Now, many districts are reflecting on the quick decisions they had to make amid historic challenges and are applying a continuous improvement lens to scale their initiatives. We interviewed leaders from three districts to understand what they did early on, how those decisions are enabling them to build toward more expansive programs, and what lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Table of contents

  1. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ implementation of high-dosage tutoring.
  2. Indianapolis Public Schools’ development of individualized instruction.
  3. Dallas Independent School District’s process of meeting state requirements through multi-vendor tutoring.

 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS)

CMS is a large urban district in North Carolina that serves around 146,000 students. With increasing student needs as a result of the pandemic, CMS had to provide targeted supports backed by strategic community engagement to improve student learning.

 

 

 

 

Goal: Administer high-dosage tutoring that is aligned with district best practices and targeted to high-need students.
Planning and implementation: District staff released a request for vendor proposals, evaluated organizations using a research-backed rubric, selected 34 external tutoring partners, and aligned vendor preferences with school needs.
Leading indicators: CMS is currently monitoring the rollout of its tutoring program across its campuses and intends to develop capacity to monitor number of student sign-ups, average tutoring session group size, and average consistency of tutor-student pairings to ensure fidelity to research-backed best practices.
What’s next: This fall, CMS will increase the number of in-person and virtual tutoring spots available at each school.

 

 

 

 


Key Learning: CMS designs for equity by prioritizing the highest-need students.

Many districts encounter tension between serving the most students possible versus serving the highest-need students. To meet both objectives, CMS’ central office identified and prioritized clusters of students at the 42 schools with the highest need. Their goal was to offer in-person and virtual tutoring to at least 30% of students at those schools.

District leaders know that school staff and leaders are most acutely tapped into student needs, so they enable leaders to determine tutoring recruitment and assignments. They encourage teachers of prioritized grade levels, for example, to engage high-need students and families directly and release open calls that allow families to opt into the program.

“We knew that given [our situation] coming out of the pandemic and the size of our district, our ESSER funds would be insufficient to meet the magnitude of need. We thought about ways we could identify schools that would avoid creating additional disruption, so we leveraged the state categorization system for prioritizing schools to select the campuses we wanted to target for tutoring.” — Frank Barnes, CMS Chief Accountability Officer

Key Learning: CMS preempts implementation challenges by minimizing the number of tutoring organizations at each campus.

Anticipating implementation challenges around schedules, curriculum, transportation, and communication, CMS minimized the number of pairings between schools and their 34 external partner organizations. Doing so meant considering their partners’ locations and grade-level preferences and ensuring each school balanced in-person and virtual options.

By looking at the full landscape of needs across the 42 pilot schools, CMS was able to match schools and partners so that each school has one in-person and one virtual tutoring partner.

“We prioritized relationship continuity, creating fewer relationships for folks to manage and deeper relationships between partners for increased effectiveness.” — Frank Barnes, CMS Chief Accountability Officer

Key Learning: CMS invests in program development and management to enable continuous improvement

Establishing logistics—such as background checks and payment processes—for multiple vendors can be time-consuming. Since staff had limited capacity for this initiative, district leaders invested in program development and management by dedicating weekly time to addressing implementation challenges. In the fall, they'll create additional school capacity by giving principals resources to hire school-based site coordinators who can manage logistics.

“If I could do it again, I would find a way to establish a cross-functional team with members across all relevant departments, including academics and transportation, with dedicated time to manage our tutoring initiatives.” — Frank Barnes, CMS Chief Accountability Officer

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS)

The largest district in Indianapolis, IPS serves around 30,000 students. To improve student performance across the district, IPS leaders needed to create a one-to-one tutoring program with an embedded continuous improvement model that would allow them to scale effectively.

 


Goal:
Provide individualized instruction for students via a phased pilot approach to high-dosage tutoring.

Planning and implementation: IPS launched pilot programs across 24 schools, partnering with local universities for funding and Tutored by Teachers (TbT) for in-person and virtual tutoring.

Leading indicators: To ensure they’re aligning with research-backed high-dosage tutoring practices, IPS is monitoring after-school session attendance, average group size per tutoring session, and average consistency of tutor-student pairings.

What’s next: This fall, IPS will expand its virtual tutoring program to more campuses and offer after-school tutoring to all students in the district.

 


Key Learning: 
IPS identifies successful design components and fosters districtwide support using a built-in continuous improvement plan.

Enrollment processes and tutoring schedules varied across the 24 pilot schools, with principals enrolling students at some schools and families opting in at others. The eight-week pilots enabled IPS to gather data on the effectiveness of each approach in order to assess and monitor progress. They found that attendance was highest when families could opt in and when students could access tutoring during existing intervention blocks.

IPS leveraged its vendor team's capacity to monitor, review, and draw on data to create smooth implementation conditions for their fall 2022 districtwide initiative.

“We’re looking a lot at attendance and average group sizes. If our target is group sizes of three, based on evidence-backed practices, how should we plan for that, taking into account that we know attendance will not be at 100%?" — John Isaacson, IPS Strategy Analyst

Key Learning: IPS aligns tutoring materials with district curriculum to create consistent learning experiences and generate teacher buy-in.

Feedback from school leaders and teachers was essential to refining the pilot programs. Some teachers expressed that they had limited insights into the tutoring curriculums or felt these curriculums weren’t closely aligned to IPS pacing guides. These conditions made it difficult for teachers to create consistent learning experiences for students.

To address this concern, district leaders ensured that all school-day tutoring aligned with IPS curriculum by having tutors work with the district’s academic team to develop high-quality tutoring instructional materials. In this fall’s expanded program, each school will have a vendor-appointed tutor lead tasked with monitoring curriculum alignment. IPS academic teams and tutoring vendors will also meet regularly to evaluate the program’s success.

“Strong alignment between our classroom and tutoring curriculums reinforces for teachers and principals that we mean it when we say our curriculum is our most important lever for change. It also helps bolster staff buy-in, especially in our highest-priority schools where the need to implement the curriculum is seen as critical.” — Sarah Chin, former IPS Deputy Chief of Staff

Dallas Independent School District (ISD)

Dallas ISD is a large urban school district in Texas that serves more than 145,000 students. Following a statewide mandate requiring districts to provide 30 additional hours of instruction per school year for students not meeting grade-level proficiencies, Dallas ISD needed to quickly create and scale a tutoring program.

 


Goal:
Meet the requirements of Texas’ mandate by partnering with multiple vendors to improve student performance.

Planning and implementation: Dallas ISD’s Office of Tutoring Services partnered with more than 30 vendors; allowed school leaders to determine their preferences for math and reading vendors via a showcase; and developed a Tutoring Corps of Dallas ISD teachers to provide more capacity.

Leading indicators: Dallas ISD is monitoring the number of completed tutoring hours, the average tutoring session group size, the average consistency of tutor-student pairings, and vendor feedback from families and school leaders.

What’s next: This fall, Dallas ISD will use principal feedback and implementation data to provide targeted vendor support and enable teachers to offer tutoring during existing intervention blocks.


 

 


Key Learning: 
Dallas ISD builds capacity by leveraging community partners, virtual tutoring vendors, and district-recruited tutors.

To meet the high amount of tutoring needed across the district, Dallas ISD created a suite of options for school leaders that included existing partnerships with community organizations, national tutoring vendors, and its own Tutoring Corps of current and retired teachers, college students, and others. As Dallas ISD continues to grow its Tutoring Corps this fall, the district will recruit more retired teachers—who have consistently been the most reliable and flexible members of the Corps—and find more school-day opportunities for tutoring.

“We wanted to move beyond a one-size-fits-all model for tutoring for our schools and wanted school leaders to be able to pick a tutoring partner that worked for them. So, we had to develop a number of options to accommodate the amount of tutoring our students needed.” — Jason Wallace, former Director of Dallas ISD Office of Tutoring Services

Key Learning: Dallas ISD establishes systems for consistent data collection and monitoring to enable ongoing continuous improvement.

With the help of its IT department, Dallas ISD created a vendor-facing system where tutors could input data and district leaders could monitor tutoring progress across implementation metrics and leading indicators.

These metrics—along with feedback from principals on their experiences working with vendors—inform Dallas ISD’s continuous improvement approach and how they design vendor support structures. The district has also embedded their continuous improvement approach into their racial equity work and extended year initiative to understand how students are experiencing tutoring in the context of other strategic initiatives within Dallas ISD.

“As we think about leading indicators and what’s working, we aren’t just looking at academic outcomes. Student connections and a sense of belonging are just as important as academic achievement to ensure that students are making a connection and feel safe and valued.” — Jason Wallace, former Director of Dallas ISD Office of Tutoring Services

Forging Sustainable Impact

To make their tutoring initiatives work, each of these districts have had to make a number of strategic decisions around who should provide tutoring in their district, when sessions should happen, and how they’ll monitor their programs going forward, especially in light of the very real challenges around growing student needs, staffing shortages, and limited central capacity.

For district leaders in the early stages of implementing high-dosage tutoring programs, it’s important to overcome challenges by staying grounded in research-backed decisions and strategies. By grounding their approaches in evidence-based strategies, CMS, IPS, and Dallas ISD were able to create and scale effective programs shaped by their district’s unique needs. Leaders in all three districts are optimistic that their investments in high-dosage tutoring will result in sustainable, long-term change.

 

For more on tutoring, read our High-Dosage Tutoring Guide or watch our explainer video below:

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