Contract Tutoring in Baltimore City Schools and Beyond is Transforming Today’s Classroom –
In a trend that could change learning in Baltimore and across the country, a huge influx of federal stimulus money is creating massive growth in the tutoring industry. These programs – many of which are backed by data and deploy high-dose techniques over long periods of time – are designed to help students and teachers recover from education systems devastated by the pandemic.
Private businesses, nonprofits and volunteer groups are working with and competing to help children close the achievement gaps made worse by COVID-19. This year, as children once again use books and tablets behind school desks, districts have been diligently trying to increase their assessment numbers.
Volunteer grandparents, Americorps staff, and for-profit and nonprofit companies with different models are all vying to help children reach their academic potential in Baltimore and beyond.
According to the Baltimore City Public School District, about 10,200 students representing 13% of the student body received at least six weeks of high-dose tutoring this year. This was done through small group or even individual tutoring during the school day outside of the classroom. The sessions take place a few times a week, over several weeks.
The number of Baltimore students receiving tutoring is expected to increase in the coming years.
The trend has been a boon for for-profit companies. In Baltimore alone, the city’s school district received 28 Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) grants totaling $790 million. Federal pandemic relief funds are to be spread over three years, from the current school year through 2024.
Only a portion of those funds go to tutoring, but the financial windfall has already altered the traditional class day in Baltimore. Many tutored students and classroom teachers report that the change has been beneficial.
Although federal funding may decline after 2024, some school district administrators in the city have said this modern integration of tutoring into the school day may have permanently changed the landscape of K-12 education.
“There’s a lot of science pointing to this (as) work that’s going to be around for a while,” said Matthew Barrow, Academic Tutoring Coordinator for the Baltimore City Public School District. “It’s quite revolutionary because it brings something that didn’t exist before. It provides a whole other level of education that teachers are not directly responsible for implementing every day. »
These tutoring programs, designed using accumulated data and regulated by federal and state law, are described as high-dose, evidence-based efforts. In Baltimore, the district is using multiple mentoring models, throwing all it can at the achievement gap created by the pandemic, to see what makes a difference.
Currently, twelve different organizations are under contract with the city district to assist students. Programs range from computer-guided early literacy intervention to small group interactions of just a few children. Programs have focused on literacy and math, and sessions can last as little as five minutes or as long as 30 minutes.
[Author’s note: I took on the role as an early literacy intervention tutor for several weeks this spring at Calvin Rodwell Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore. The common practice at the assigned school was to pull students from their homeroom to a separate learning area a few times each week when they weren’t being taught core curriculum.]
The students seemed to appreciate the chance to get out of the classroom for a few minutes. Often they asked to be taken out for tutoring. A survey of students in the district who were tutored revealed that most students found the tutoring approach to be beneficial.
“We’re learning that students feel good about having the opportunity to meet a caring adult,” said Jalima Alicea, director of specialized learning for the district’s Office of Teaching and Learning.
Many teachers also appreciate the efforts of tutors who work with their students. Teachers and guardians work together to help children achieve their educational goals.
“We do surveys,” said Innovations for Learning founder Seth Weinberger. “The teachers are extremely enthusiastic about it. Within a few weeks they start to see how the person (guardian) is really helping. Teachers are often our greatest supporters.
Innovations for Learning is a nonprofit organization founded by Weinberger 25 years ago to help young elementary school students bridge the literacy gap. The organization entered into a contract with the Baltimore City Public School District for the first time this year. But the nonprofit already teaches more than 20,000 students across the country.
“The reason we’re in Baltimore is because of federal funding,” he said. “There are more programs that are getting into it. This is above all a positive point… other models can be tested.
Federal and state law categorizes and limits the type of tutoring contracts districts can enter into. The federal government provides four levels of content evaluation for a tutoring program.
Level one is considered the highest level for evidence-based tutoring programs, which have undergone double-blind studies conducted to analyze effectiveness. Level four is the lowest level. These programs contain only some of the components of evidence-based programs.
Maryland limits school districts to using only programs that meet a level one or two designation.
“It makes it a little harder to find partners,” Alicea said. “However, it helps us allocate resources that research confirms (their) effectiveness.”
The city’s school district was able to get started when federal funding arrived in 2021. It had already established its own small-scale in-house tutoring program before the pandemic. Thanks to this, Alicea’s department already knew how to better monitor and evaluate the data.
“We were able to seize this opportunity last year with these lessons learned,” she said. “That influenced our approach a lot.”
Alicea said evaluations of in-house tutoring programs have already shown an impact on student achievement. This program is expanding, with 83 new positions now waiting to be filled.
The jury has again decided on the results of the tutoring contract since the school year has just ended. But Weinberger said his nonprofit plans to expand into Baltimore City’s public schools next year.
The success of high-dose tutoring programs may depend on how the money is allocated. To be made sustainable, administrators may need to be as efficient as possible.
Tutors are often not required to have a teacher certification, but considerable time is required to verify them. And many tutors earn over $20 an hour in their positions. “What is the most profitable? Barrow asked. “It leads to sustainability. “It’s going to allow us to be the best stewards of public money so that we can support this work.”
Matthew Liptak is a longtime Maryland-based journalist and writer who worked as an early literacy worker for 7 weeks in April and May at Calvin Rodwell Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore. He took K-3 students out of their classroom for five to 10 minutes a day and worked with them through a computer program that used phonics to improve reading skills.