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New Research Suggests Pandemic Learning Loss Recovery Will Require Largest Number of Tutors in U.S. History

But the pipeline for qualified tutors could be a roadblock for administrators

Post-pandemic will require more tutors than ever

The American Rescue Plan Act was designed to help fund learning recovery, requiring local school districts to reserve 20 percent of the approximately $109.8 billion they'll receive for evidence-based interventions to address the impact of COVID-19 on student learning. But how is this funding best allocated? New research shows students, parents, teachers and administrators across the country agree that tutoring is poised to reverse the negative effects of pandemic learning loss, with most preferring a model in which this intervention is free, in person, and incorporated into the school day.

The research findings were released today in a special report, The Tutoring Solution, commissioned by Kelly Education and administered by the EdWeek Research Center. The report reveals the typical district-level administrator expects their district to spend $750 on tutoring per one in three pupils within the next year to address pandemic learning loss. That could amount to a nationwide total of $12.75 billion. Even with funding in place, this effort will require an unprecedented number of tutoring staff, as schools are challenged to find the largest number of tutors in U.S. history amid an education talent shortage. At least 76 percent of district leaders who had tried to hire learning recovery tutors said it was somewhat or very difficult to find qualified candidates.

“This new research tells us that, while tutoring is an effective way to address the learning loss recovery, school district leaders who are doing their best to close the gap may not be equipped to staff up despite all the additional funding,” says Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education, the largest education talent provider in the country.

A Question of Confidence

Parents, teachers and administrators are split when it comes to the question of whether schools have what it takes to help students recover from the educational impact of the pandemic, according to the research. Parents and teachers are relatively skeptical, with less than half expressing a great deal of confidence that districts or schools will ensure students learn material or skills missed due to the pandemic. By contrast, more than 70% of school and district leaders express the same level of confidence in their ability to promote learning recovery.

That discrepancy may be explained by parents being unaware of just how concerned teachers and administrators are about learning recovery. Only 22% of parents believe educators are very concerned about their children’s learning recovery. Yet more than 60% of teachers and administrators say that they are very concerned.

The research also shows disagreement among students, parents, teachers and administrators about the estimated length of the recovery period. The majority of educators believe it will take a year or more. One in five educators say it could take three years to recover. However, parents and students say it will take six months or less. Parents and educators do agree that tutoring should be offered on an ongoing basis.

"It's surprising that there is such a substantial gap between the way in which parents and educators perceive learning recovery, with parents far less likely than teachers and administrators to say that students have fallen behind," says EdWeek Research Center Director Holly Kurtz. "While I hope that parents' rosier view is accurate, I fear that educators' less optimistic outlook may be closer to reality and that we have a long road to recovery ahead."

What Will It Take to Get Schools Staffed for Tutoring?

The majority of the educators surveyed say most tutoring support will be in-person. Since educators are fatigued by balancing virtual learning with tending to the needs of their families, the largest influx of tutors inside the classroom will need a more strategic approach to staffing. This thinking aligns with the Annenberg Foundation’s National Student Support Accelerator recommendation of what makes for high-impact tutoring: steady, ongoing instruction by skilled tutors to students in groups of four or less.

The capacity to match tutors with students, the logistics of when and where to host sessions, and the ability to track and report student progress also put a new burden on administrators, who are already overwhelmed with filling teacher vacancies. The tight timeline to meet the American Rescue Plan Act requirements adds additional pressure. To put this effort into perspective, the nation’s only other large-scale tutoring intervention was much smaller by comparison. Funding for Supplemental Educational Services under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 amounted to about $2 billion annually.

“The last federal tutoring intervention program happened just before the national teacher shortage began. Since the pandemic, the shortage of teachers, substitute teachers and paraeducators has notably worsened,” Soares says. “Yet, if there’s one thing the pandemic taught us, it’s that the presence of a caring, nurturing individual is required for learning to occur. The basis of effective tutoring is a strong tutor-to-student relationship.”

Soares says she’s seeing school districts design completely new tutoring programs, starting from scratch, and none is a one-size-fits-all solution.

“The level of innovation needed to solve this issue is unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed in schools. The combination of American Rescue Plan Act funding, solid agreement on tutoring as a way forward, and qualified tutors can pay off in terms of catching up an entire generation of learners,” she says. “The stakes are high.”

For more information and to access the full report – The Tutoring Solution – visit edweek.org.

Kelly Education powers the future of learning by helping make early childhood education centers, K-12 school districts and institutions of higher education, stronger and more stable for leaders, administrators, professors, teachers, and students. Learn more at KellyEducation.com.