March 11, 2021

Nancy Bailey: Tutors Replacing Teachers

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Nancy Bailey keeps her clear eye focused on corporate education disruption, and she here takes note of the Next Big Thing being sold in the name of pandemic recovery. As always, it’s important to pay attention to who is backing this initiative (and what they can hope to gain from it).

The pandemic showed that for students to get quality instruction, especially poor children of color, America must invest in real teachers, smaller class sizes, and better working conditions, including improved school facilities.

So why is the focus on tutors?

“Accelerated high-dosage” tutoring. We have been here before. With No Child Left Behind, tutoring didn’t work so now there’s brand new terminology and an intense marketing campaign by the same individuals who promote school privatization.

Covid-19 fears, including poor working conditions, and the lack of being heard have driven teachers out of the classroom. Schools need to reduce class sizes, which has become a problem.

Concurrently, parents have learned that technology is insufficient. Most parents can’t wait for their child’s public school to reopen.

Where’s the focus on teachers? Instead, tutors are touted as providing “personalized learning,” eerily what Americans were told about technology.

There’s the Johns Hopkins Marshall Plan for tutors described as just as good as teachers!

These tutors would be required to have a college degree, but not necessarily a teaching certificate. Research has found that such tutors, using proven models with excellent professional development, can improve the achievement of students struggling in reading or mathematics as much as can teachers serving as tutors.

Future Ed, a think tank out of George Washington University, made up of Teach for America types, some from the Broad Institute, promote tutors in The Case for a National Tutoring System. They’re funded by the: Barr Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, The City Fund, Joyce Foundation, Overdeck Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

They say:

Of course, this idea would require a substantial investment from the federal government. In addition to tutor pay, our blueprint also includes funding for embedded coordinators in schools and districts and peer leaders that support tutors ongoing development. We estimate that a program targeting all K-12 students in the nation’s 20,000 lowest-performing schools would cost the federal government about $10 billion annually. Expanding tutoring across all K-8 schools with high concentrations of students from low-income backgrounds—so-called Title I schools—would cost approximately $16 billion annually.

Matthew Kraft who is an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University and the research director of Future Ed also co-authored a paper published by the Annenberg Foundation “Accelerating Tutoring with High Dosage Tutoring.” Here they say:

Although teachers tend to be the most consistently effective tutors, recent studies have found that AmeriCorps members and paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) can be just as effective when tutoring one-to-one or small groups.

There’s Saga Education advertised as in-person or online. McKinsey & Company, who’s been pushing learning loss, lavish praise on tutoring by Saga.

Antonio Gutierrez, co-founder of Saga Education. “We know that high-dosage tutoring models like Saga drive positive outcomes for students. The support and recognition from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ken Griffin will allow us to scale research-proven supports to our most vulnerable students in a dire moment.”

Supported by nearly $6M in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin, philanthropic dollars will enable Saga Education to reach 1,600 new high school students in under resourced schools in the 2020-21 school year.

Saga is found in Broward County, Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C., coming to a school district near you. They work with Americorps who support Teach for America.

In August, Education Week reported High-Dosage Tutoring is Effective But Expensive: Ideas for Making it Work mentioning Instruction Partners, who also promote tutoring.

“The magic of tutoring of course seems to be this individualized ability to both diagnose, and hover, in ways that just lead to real progress,” noted Emily Freitag, the CEO of Instruction Partners, a nonprofit working with districts in several states to develop COVID-19 instructional plans. 

Freitag had high-level education jobs in the Tennessee Department of Education. She is from Teach for America. They describe as their mission:

We work shoulder to shoulder with educators to support great teaching and accelerate student learning. We focus on small systems, both districts and charters. We work to ensure equitable access to great instruction for students in poverty, students of color, students learning English, and students with disabilities.

Teachers are lumped together with paraprofessionals and tutors. But teachers are professionals with teaching degrees.

It’s not that tutors can’t be helpful, but tutors need guidance from the teachers who know the students.

State leaders and school boards should be reaching out to teachers who retired early due to the pandemic, or because they weren’t valued before Covid-19. Universities should be recruiting young people to be real teachers, and this country should be lifting teachers to the professional status they rightly deserve.

It’s hard to believe that parents want to settle for tutors when their children return to in-person classes.

Tutoring isn’t new. Schools have often employed business groups and volunteer tutors to work with students. Last May, students started Connecting Chicago to provide voluntary tutoring. Even AOC started a homework helper program related to the pandemic.

Tutors may have a school place, but they should not be seen as an educational panacea alone. They do not replace teachers. The need for qualified teachers and improved school infrastructure must be the priority, especially during these troubling times.

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