Guidance help reaches few students despite nationwide push – ÓNSKE-TV | Indianapolis News | Indiana Weather

Guidance help reaches few students despite nationwide push – ÓNSKE-TV |  Indianapolis News |  Indiana Weather
Guidance help reaches few students despite nationwide push – ÓNSKE-TV |  Indianapolis News |  Indiana Weather

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David Daniel knows his son needs help.

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

But his school in Indianapolis offers tutoring on Saturdays or after school — programs that don’t work for Daniel, a single father. The result is that his son, now in third grade, is not getting the guidance he needs.

“I want him to get help,” Daniel said. Without that, “next year is going to be very difficult for him.”

As US schools face dramatic learning setbacks caused by the pandemic, experts have held up intensive tutoring as the best antidote. But even as schools spend billions of dollars in federal COVID aid, only a tiny fraction of students have received school counseling, according to a survey of the nation’s largest districts by Chalkbeat and The Associated Press.

In eight of 12 school systems that provided data, less than 10% of students received any form of district guidance this fall.

A new tutoring corps in Chicago has served about 3% of students, officials said. The number was less than 1% in three districts: Georgia’s Gwinnett County, Florida’s Miami-Dade County, and Philadelphia, where the district reported teaching only about 800 students. In these three systems alone, more than 600,000 students did not spend time in a district guidance program this fall.

The startlingly low guidance 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 guidance counselors. Other school systems said the small tutoring programs were intentional, part of an effort to focus on students with the greatest needs.

Whatever the cause, the effect is clear: At a crucial time in student recovery, millions of children have not received the academic equivalent of powerful medicine.

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

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

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

“The progress he made in just a couple of months last semester working with his teacher was kind of way beyond what he understood and did in school,” said Jessica Blalack, whose 7-year-old, Phoenix, chose after-school tutoring.

Jessica Blalack watches as her son Phoenix, 7, works with a tutor on his laptop in his home in Indianapolis. (AJ Mast/AP)

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

Only 35% of students who signed up for after-school guidance last fall attended more than one session, according to district data.

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

Shaan Akbar, co-founder of the company Tutored by Teachers, which runs the video training programs, said his team is focused on maintaining quality.

“Trying to shoot for scale quickly is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Nationwide, schools report that about 10% of students receive “high-dose” tutoring several days a week, according to a December federal survey. The real number may be even lower: Only 2% of American households say their children receive that kind of intensive tutoring, according to the USC analysis of another nationally representative survey.

Schools trying to increase tutoring have run into roadblocks, including staffing and scheduling. Experts say tutoring is most effective when it is given three times a week for at least 30 minutes during school hours. Offering after-school or weekend tuition is easier, but turnout is often low.

Harrison Tran, a 10th grader in Savannah, Georgia, struggled to understand algebra during distance learning. Last year, the high school offered help after school. But that wasn’t possible for Harrison, who lives 30 minutes from the school and couldn’t afford to miss the ride home.

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Without tutoring help, he started this school year with gaps in his learning.

“When I got into my Algebra II class, I was completely lost,” he said.

Relatively low family interest has been another challenge. Even though test scores plummeted during the pandemic, many parents don’t believe their children experienced learning losses, or simply aren’t aware of it. The link makes it more important to offer guidance during school, say experts.

“Parents are just not as concerned as we need them to be,” said USC education professor Morgan Polikoff, “if we have to rely on parents to select their children for interventions.”

Even when students want the help, some have been let down.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, 12th grader Talia Bradley recently sought calculus help from a virtual tutoring company hired by the district. But the problem she struggled with puzzled the supervisor as well. After an hour of trying to sort things out, Talia walked away frustrated.

“My daughter was no more,” said Leah Bradley, her mother. “Having an option for online tutoring makes sense, but it can’t be the primary option if you’re looking for good results.”

Repeated in-person tutoring tends to be more effective than on-demand online help, but it’s also more difficult to administer. District rules add to the complexity, with safeguards such as background checks on supervisors and bidding rules for vendors slowing the process.

In Wake County, North Carolina, the school district began planning a reading tutoring program last summer. The program didn’t start until November, and district officials said last month that volunteers tutor fewer than 140 students — far fewer than the 1,000 students the program was designed to reach.

“We’re always looking to serve more students,” said Amy Mattingly, director of K-12 programs at the Helps Education Fund, the nonprofit that administers this program and another that serves about 400 students. But, she added, it’s important to “see what works and make adjustments before you try to scale up and serve everyone.”

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Sixteen states have established their own tutoring programs using a combined $470 million in federal COVID aid, according to an analysis by the Council of Chief State School Officers. But even the state programs have reached a limited number of students.

Ohio awarded $14 million in grants to more than 30 colleges and universities to provide tutoring in local schools. They served just 2,000 students statewide last fall, according to a state spokesperson, who said the goal is to eventually reach 10,000 students.

Some districts defended their participation numbers, saying tutoring is most effective when it’s well-targeted.

In Georgia’s Fulton County, 3% of the district’s 90,000 students participated in tutoring programs this fall. Most of the guidance was offered by paraprofessionals during the school day, with a staff member to provide intensive support at each elementary school.

The district says that time and staffing limit how many students can receive frequent, intensive tutoring.

“We don’t want to water it down, because then you don’t get the effect that the research says is beneficial for children,” said Cliff Jones, academic director of the system.

Others worry that too few are getting the help they need, even as programs continue to grow.

This school year, about 3,500 students are receiving reading tutoring from the North Carolina Education Corps. Meanwhile, in fourth grade alone, more than 41,000 students across the country scored at the bottom of a national reading test last year.

“Who we serve,” said Laura Bilbro-Berry, the program’s senior director, “is just a drop in the bucket.”

Patrick Wall is a senior reporter covering national education issues. Contact him at [email protected].

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at [email protected].

Collin Binkley is an education reporter for the Associated Press.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering public education.

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