All Struggling Students Deserve Tutoring — Like My Daughter Gets from Her Dad

Adams: Schools have received almost $190 billion for pandemic recovery. I am here to insist that funds be spent on outside-of-class tutoring

The author’s daughter and husband. (Alina Adams)

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My 10th grader came home from school and announced that she didn’t understand her trigonometry homework. She said the teacher didn’t explain how to do it — just demonstrated six practice problems during class, then sent everyone on their merry way.

It was up to my husband — conveniently, a math and physics teacher with a nuclear engineering degree from MIT — to spend two hours with our daughter after work, explaining the underlying algorithms and then watching her do her homework and pointing out where she went wrong.

The entire process prompted me to ask: What are students who don’t happen to have a math and physics teacher parent with a nuclear engineering degree from MIT supposed to do when they don’t understand their assignment? 

There will always be a segment of the population with the resources to hire professional help. In New York City, outside tutoring is how most schools acquire their “high-achieving” label. The kids get prepped privately, and the schools take the credit.

But what about the majority of public school families, who lack the money or even the knowledge that private prep is available? More students are behind than ever before, as shown on the newly released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When I’ve raised the issue with various principals, the response has always been that teachers are available outside-of-class for extra help.

Yes, thousands of teachers are available to offer instruction during office hours, after school, even in the middle of lunch. But, as my daughter pointed out, “If I didn’t understand how they explained it in class, why would I understand it when they repeat the exact same thing later?”

Sometimes, a fresh perspective is required.

COVID-19 learning loss has spurred an aggressive push to make high-level tutoring available to struggling students. President Joe Biden used his 2022 State of the Union address to inveigle districts to use their federal relief aid to set up intensive tutoring programs, saying, “I urge every parent to make sure your school does just that. They have the money.”

I am that parent. I don’t see tutoring as merely an academic imperative. I see it as a moral one. 

I’ve written before about how schools can’t legislate equal academic results — but they can and should legislate that every student receive the tools and preparation necessary to achieve their own personal best.

Personalized tutoring is an equity issue. Personalized tutoring can help level the playing field between those with resources and those without. If anything might put academically unprepared students on an equal footing with better-prepared peers at schools that now accept via lottery rather than academic screening, it’s this sort of intervention. 

Even before Biden endorsed wide-scale tutoring, Texas and Tennessee were pouring money and human resources into ramping up their individualized math education. Teacher training was part of it, but so was recruiting thousands of volunteers, often college students, to work with youngsters who are behind academically.

Indiana is offering parents up to $1,000 per child to engage their own tutor (assuming said tutor is credentialed). The state guarantees a $500 credit regardless of whether the child attends public, charter or private school, and if the families work in conjunction with their schools and the school puts up $250 for tutoring, Indiana will contribute $250 more.

Research points to frequent tutoring in small groups as “consistently proven to accelerate achievement as quickly as possible,” notably increasing learning “by up to 10 months.”

American schools have already received almost $190 billion for pandemic recovery, and, for their most recent round of funding, the American Rescue Plan has mandated that all districts must spend at least 20% to tackle student learning loss.

As Joe Biden directed me to, I am here to insist — to beg, if I have to — that the funds be spent on outside-of-class tutoring.

Here in New York, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program designated $2.1 billion in direct funding to the city Department of Education to be spent between March 13, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2023. Among the pre-approved allocations is “addressing learning loss (e.g. summer learning and afterschool programming).”

That one grant can pay for New York City to spend almost an entire year heeding the lessons of Texas, Tennessee, and Indiana, along with Louisiana, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Oklahoma and South Carolina, which are leaning into offering their students intensive intervention in subjects in which they’ve fallen behind. 

New York State is scheduled to release the latest standardized test results in math and English for grades 3 through 8 on Nov. 4. When New York City released its results last month, English language arts scores for the youngest students were down, as were math scores for all students across every grade level.

On Nov. 4, parents will be able to compare their child’s results to those from the rest of the state, and everyone will have access to data that will prove, once again, just how much damage the pandemic did to student learning.

There could be no better time to use those results to drive the kind of targeted tutoring that’s been proven successful in other states. We have the money. We have the science. Now we just need the critical mass of parents, teachers and administrators to make it a reality — for all kids, not just the lucky ones, like mine.

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