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Pittsburgh Quarterly features ASSET: Pandemic Learning Loss

ASSET was featured in Pittsburgh Quarterly's Winter 2023 Edition in an article addressing pandemic learning loss. An excerpt is below.

High-dosage Tutoring

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s big bet on tutoring is paying off.

She led a charge over the past two years to fast-track initiatives to close pandemic-related learning gaps, including a $200 million program to match trained tutors with students in need of extra academic help across the state. The Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps, as it’s called, pairs groups of no more than four elementary and middle school students with a tutor for two to three 30- to 45-minute lessons a week during the school day. Recently released statewide assessment scores from the 2021-22 school year show student academic performance improved across every tested grade — 77 percent of districts achieved reading scores that were higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“High-dosage tutoring is what has the most research support behind it,” said Morton. “This strategy is being used by a lot of districts.”

A large body of research shows that tutoring works. On average, tutoring resulted in the academic equivalent of students adding on an additional three to 15 months of school, according to a recent review of research on the topic published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The biggest challenge is offering quality tutoring to students at scale. As with an extended year, workforce woes are a concern. The outlook for the teaching workforce is bleak. By 2026, an estimated 25 percent of the American teacher workforce is expected to retire, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. At the same time, enrollment in teacher training programs is plummeting. The total number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs dropped by more than one-third from 2010 to 2017, according to data from National Center for Educational Statistics.

“We’re really at a crisis point with the teacher workforce pipeline,” said Sarah Toulouse, executive director at ASSET Inc., a Pittsburgh-based education nonprofit focused on educator professional development. “Some of that is natural attrition from retirement age, but there is a large portion that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, burnout and folks looking at early retirement. How do we ensure that these students who are in teaching programs actually go into the teaching profession and stay there? We do know that support and professional learning along the way is critical to their retention.”

Not unlike K-12 students, pre-service teachers — those in training to be the next K-12 instructors — also experienced disruptions to their education. “They weren’t getting access to the classrooms and the field experiences and throughout the pandemic there were cohorts who were graduating without those experiences,” Toulouse said. “We were trying to figure out how to help with that. And we thought of it as a way to contribute to the tutoring pool.”

ASSET partnered with Carlow University’s School of Education to provide training for about 100 pre-service teachers to serve as tutors for about 150 K-12 students in Pittsburgh. For now, the tutoring takes place not in school, but in out-of-school-time organizations, such as The Pittsburgh Project, Mt. Ararat Community Activity Center and HOPE for Tomorrow.

“We focused on out-of-school-time space because they’re very flexible,” Toulouse said. On the other hand, integrating tutoring into the regular school day requires schools to address issues such as technology challenges and reworking schedules to allow for pairing tutors and students. But, she said, requests from school districts in the region show an increasing interest in figuring out how to blend more tutoring into the school day to help students overcome learning loss experienced over the past two years. “We’re looking at what that could look like.”

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