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    Five questions school districts should ask when evaluating tutoring vendors.

    Adult female tutor at table and computer with two male students

    While school districts across the country work on their approaches to summer tutoring programs, they are mindful that the deadline for obligating monies from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) is fast approaching. Many are looking to invest in their tutoring programs long-term to tackle achievement gaps.

    A McKinsey survey of district administrators shows that priorities for spending ESSER dollars have shifted to stabilizing staff, supporting student mental health, and solving unfinished learning. Administrators see high-impact tutors as a way to alleviate teacher burnout and build confidence for students struggling with academic gaps. However, finding qualified, consistent tutors in specific subjects and grade-levels can be difficult. If your district is considering a partnership, here's a few things you'll want to ask:

    Five key questions to evaluate tutor vendors.

    Superintendents, curriculum/instruction faculty, and other stakeholders should ask these questions when evaluating a high-impact approach for their schools:

    1. Does the vendor offer tutoring as part of the school day?

    While it's important to preserve core teaching time so students don't miss out on sequenced lessons, research shows that tutoring embedded into the school day provides overall equitable access and consistency to supplemental learning interventions. After all, some students simply can't consistently come early or leave later to meet with a tutor due to family dynamics or extra-curricular activities.  

    Incorporating tutors may require some re-imagination about school day schedules. One way to practically use tutors during the school day is through a “push-in” model, where tutors work in the classroom during bell-to-bell instruction. For example, they can support classroom teachers by directly working with students one-on-one or in small groups during math and literacy blocks or in focused activity stations. Tutors can also “pull-out” of the classroom, working with students in after-school enrichment programs, during media center hours, etc. The sky’s the limit when it comes to building tutoring inventions right into current school schedules.

    1. Does the vendor offer in-person tutors?

    In response to The Nation’s Report Card, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona indicated that the scarcity of in-person learning in the classroom at the height of the pandemic is connected to the alarming decrease in scores. He said, “In-person learning is where we need to focus.”

    By hiring culturally competent, in-person tutors and providing excellent training, vendors should encourage their tutors to build strong, positive, and mutually respectful relationships as a way to boost students’ confidence and sense of belonging while empowering them to grow in creative problem-solving and persistence. These important life skills are a huge part of long-term success at university, in the workplace, and for simply being good members of their community. 

    1. Does the tutoring vendor help save money by using resources you already have? 

    The best results from tutoring occur when sessions complement what teachers are doing in the classroom. The Annenberg Institute says that a tutoring best practice is to extend the classroom by using curriculum and materials that students are already familiar with. In other words, introducing students to different material and activities may actually impede learning.Guide: Expert tips for sustaining a high-impact tutoring program. Get the Guide.

    As a former classroom teacher and building administrator, I can tell you that every year, many ancillary materials that were part of my core curriculum went unused—I simply didn’t have time to incorporate them into my lessons. If districts provide tutors with these extra materials that complement classroom instruction, it ensures that standards of focus remain aligned with state and district learning objectives. Additionally, it’s a cost savings for districts; they save money by not purchasing more tutoring curriculum.

    Another cost savings is for districts to use already scheduled student assessments and existing progress platforms. Tracking student learning is important for entrance and exit tickets into tutoring programs, but why  test students with yet another vendor-created assessment to determine who participates in a tutoring program or how to place students in small groups?

    Using assessment results that are already a part of the school calendar is an efficient and cost-effective way to measure progress and move students through a tutoring program. In addition, using a district’s existing reporting platform to upload student progress just makes sense. Tutors can either receive access to a district’s platform, or tutors can send weekly progress updates to a key point person or classroom teacher to include in existing reporting structures.

    1. Is the vendor able to deliver the number of vetted and trained tutors needed in a timely manner?

    Tutors should mirror the background and diversity of the students they serve, so recruiting and hiring qualified and culturally competent tutors who represent a district’s multi-ethnic, multi-language populations is important. 

    Select a partner that has the capacity to recruit tutors using the latest recruitment tools and a mix of recruiting strategies—from networking with various diversity organizations. Recruiters should use digital recruiting tools that go beyond job posting sites. They should be experts in social recruiting, search engine optimization, market data and analytics, and an AI-enabled technology stack.

    In addition to recruiting tutors, a true partner must thoroughly and efficiently vet tutors. This includes verifying permits and licensure (if applicable), checking the National Sex Offender Registry, overseeing state-required fingerprinting, and implementing any other screening requirements as mandated by a state or district.

    Finally, vendors need to provide ongoing support and accountability to the tutors they employ. This preparation should consist of an onboarding curriculum and specialized tutoring methodology training. Be sure to ask if they offer ongoing professional development through a team of tutor managers with education and tutoring experience.

    1. Do good tutors need to be university-trained instructors?Male tutor with high school student

    Research shows that student learning is not significantly impacted if tutors are certified educators or are non-educators. What does make a difference? Training and support. 

    Most tutoring vendors will charge more for recruiting and hiring certified teachers as tutors. Rather than solely hiring teachers, vendors who recruit well-trained and supported college students, retirees, military veterans, degreed professionals, community members, and others can tap into a larger pool of very qualified and talented tutors who can also make a difference in students’ learning.

    What exactly is high-impact tutoring?

    At Kelly Education, we embrace this gold standard approach to tutoring. The National Student Support Accelerator—defines high-impact tutoring as personalized instruction that complements classroom teaching, resulting in substantial learning gains for students. It possesses the following features:

    • High-dose (or frequent) teaching interventions—either one-to-one or in small groups—that are responsive to individual strengths and learning needs of students
    • Strong and positive relationships between tutors and students through significant, consistent, and regular amounts of time
    • Alignment with school/district curriculum and learning objectives
    • Continual formative assessments of students’ knowledge and skills for tutors to tailor sessions and adjust approach as needed
    • Training and oversight of tutors to ensure quality student connections

    High-impact tutoring could potentially result in these beneficial outcomes for students:

    • Improvements in attendance, behavior, and grades
    • Increased motivation for learning
    • Completion of education/lower drop-out rates
    • Learning equity—especially for underserved students—to excel and advance in classroom instruction, preparing them for college and/or career

    Now is the time to implement a high-impact tutoring program.

    Now is the time for districts to support hard-working teachers, shrink inequitable access to academic resources, and provide the human support students need.

    Kelly Education helps district leaders think through how they can integrate high-impact tutoring into summer programs, daily classrooms, and before/after school hoursReach out to learn how we customize and scale our programs to meet the needs of individual school communities.

    District guidance to sustaining an effective tutoring program. Get it now.


    Stephanie Wall, Ed.D./SHRM-CP is the director of the Tutoring Solutions Center of Excellence at Kelly Education. Prior to joining Kelly Education, she served for 14 years as a bilingual classroom teacher, building administrator, and district administrator.

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