(This is a guest post by Megan Clark, a NYC resident who formerly served as the Director of Development at Pencils of Promise, an innovative “for purpose” nonprofit organization providing quality education in the developing world. She is currently CEO of Clark, a virtual assistant for tutors.)
While there are many factors that can affect a student’s ability to keep up in the classroom, research has shown that the growing U.S income gap is a major contributor. Students in low-income communities are not receiving the same opportunities as wealthier students to excel academically—specifically, the inability to address individual needs and develop personalized learning plans is holding back poor-performing students.
But it’s not just about a lack of funding for extra help. Overcrowded classrooms and the dearth of extra space means it’s more difficult for educators to spend a significant amount of one-on-one time with each student. This, in turn, prevents them from recognizing indicators of a child’s falling performance early, and most important, before it becomes a significant problem.
High teacher turnover rates in urban schools also contributes to the gap—according to the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute 2009 study, some underserved schools lose half of their teaching staff every three years. The effect: There are simply less educators available to give attention to each student. It also means that it’s not as easy for students to develop long term relationships with teachers—relationships that often allow for recognition of problematic signs based on personal understanding of a child.
When parents are notified of potential academic issues immediately, the problem can be addressed much more quickly. The solution is universal: More access to tutoring.
Tutoring unquestionably helps students who are falling behind. Researchers found that young children who worked with tutors substantially improved academic performance and the number of special education referrals and learning problems were also greatly reduced. Another study looking at improvement of reading comprehension showed that students who received tutoring services quadrupled their fluency in eight weeks. A meta-analysis of 65 studies examining the effectiveness of tutoring found that academic performance improves along with attitudes of students toward the subject matter.
Urban schools, like Boston’s Match Charter School, have been piloting programs to test the impact of tutoring on its student body. In a recent article, Politico spotlighted a new study that showed promising results specifically for those students who fell behind in school. Working with 9th and 10th grade students in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago, researchers introduced a tutoring system and measured the effects on academic performance. The results were were significant and exciting: fewer students with access to tutors failed and improved almost a full letter grade.
Hiring a tutor has been one of the first and most successful lines of defense when academic performance dwindles but, historically, comes with a high cost. Boston’s Match Charter School has developed a program that is affordable, accessible, and scalable.
Certain cities with a high-number of low-income families, like here in New York, have secured funding for tutoring from nonprofits, state budgets, and federal aid. If more communities prioritized tutoring programs, we could work to close the socioeconomic achievement gap. Level the educational playing field and provide access to quality education, personalized learning and tutors for children in need and we may truly have a shot at democratizing education.
What tutoring needs? More educators choosing tutoring as a “side hustle” to subsidize their income – decreasing churn rates – and adding more much needed tutoring hours to the ecosystem.