Justin Reich is joined by Matthew Kraft, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University to discuss the efficacy of tutoring, scaling tutoring for equity, and how COVID exposed the inequities of the status quo. “If we are to not think about changing how schooling works, it is in effect a default acceptance of that current world. So what I'm saying is given the empirical evidence, given the just willingness of parents to pay a whole bunch of money for tutoring, I think it's likely that it can be effective. There's no guarantees. It has to be done well. It won't work great at first, and you're going to have to improve. There's a whole bunch of landmines, as there always are. But with a sustained commitment to continuous improvement and problem solving, there's, I think, potential here, as much as there is for any other things that we do in school. So, lets have that be part of the school day so that it's equitably accessible for all kids, particularly those kids who most need it. ” - Matthew Kraft
Justin Reich is joined by Matthew Kraft, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University to discuss the efficacy of tutoring, scaling tutoring for equity, and how COVID exposed the inequities of the status quo.
“If we are to not think about changing how schooling works, it is in effect a default acceptance of that current world. So what I'm saying is given the empirical evidence, given the just willingness of parents to pay a whole bunch of money for tutoring, I think it's likely that it can be effective. There's no guarantees. It has to be done well. It won't work great at first, and you're going to have to improve. There's a whole bunch of landmines, as there always are. But with a sustained commitment to continuous improvement and problem solving, there's, I think, potential here, as much as there is for any other things that we do in school. So, lets have that be part of the school day so that it's equitably accessible for all kids, particularly those kids who most need it. ” - Matthew Kraft
In this episode we’ll talk about:
Resources and Links
Check out A Blueprint for Scaling Tutoring Across Public Schools by Matthew Kraft
Check out the Boston Globe article: For schoolchildren struggling to read, COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball
Check out Justin Reich’s book, Failure To Disrupt!
Join our self-paced online edX course: Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices
Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley
Recorded and mixed by Garrett Beazley
Justin Reich: Hi, TeachLab listeners. We're doing a two-part series on personalized learning and tutoring in response to the pandemic and unfinished learning that students are experience. The last episode we talked to Matthew Mugo Fields from Houghton Mifflin and this week we're talking with Matt Kraft from Brown University around his blueprint for a national tutoring initiative. Let's go ahead and listen.
From the home studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. Today's guest is Matthew Kraft. He's an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University where his research and teaching interests include the economics of education and education policy analysis. His primary work focuses on efforts to improve educator and organizational effectiveness in K-12 urban public schools. Matt's research has been featured in the Economist, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, many other places. Matt, we're so happy to have you on the show, welcome.
Matthew Kraft: Thank you, Justin, great to be here with you.
Justin Reich: So, Matt, we're particularly excited to have you today because you've just released this very timely working paper, A Blueprint for Scaling Tutoring Across Public Schools, and I think the heart behind this is that it's been a very challenging year for educators, a very challenging year for students, and despite heroic, valiant efforts by educators, students in the 2020-2021 school year are just not going to learn what students would have learned in the 2017-2018, 2018-2019 school year, and there's probably some of those things that we can go, eh, that's pretty good, but you'll be all right without it.
But, there's other parts of that that are really important for students and we want to help them finish some of that unfinished learning. What's the rationale for thinking of tutoring as one of the first places to go to address those kinds of challenges?
Matthew Kraft: As a former teacher, I couldn't agree more with the heartfelt respect and appreciation for everyone out there in classrooms, on computers trying to support kids through this unbelievably challenging time. There's no doubt that it's just not as good to teach remotely or in a hybrid context as it is for teachers to be with kids in school, every day for a full academic year [crosstalk 00:02:54]-
Justin Reich: And, it's certainly not the case to do that. In an emergency, we [crosstalk 00:02:59], practice, we know institutional structures. I think we might be able to imagine that there's some versions of online school that might work just fine for some kids. It's probably not impossible to conceive of, but definitely if you were to come up with ideas to substantially hobble educational systems making everyone instantly become an online teacher is probably one of the most effective ways to do that.
Matthew Kraft: Well said, and certainly things are going better, improving compared to the emergency remote transition we had in the spring. I know from even my own son's first grade experience being fully remote that things have really started to click, but the social-emotional learning just being with peers and the peer learning, that's absent and you can't make up for that in many ways.
Justin Reich: There's a beautiful op-ed, I think it was in the Boston Globe, about a teacher who was sort of lamenting, "My kid's aren't fighting over crayons." [crosstalk 00:04:00]. Think about all the negotiation, all the language, all the social-emotional learning that happens when you fight over a crayon. To me, it's one of the sort of millions of things I think we've realized in the past year that we take for granted about schools. No education policy maker would ever say it's really important to make sure kids are fighting over crayons, but it turns out it is.
Matthew Kraft: Luckily, in my household [crosstalk 00:04:27]-
Justin Reich: They still have that.
Matthew Kraft: I have a four-year-old daughter who fills that role quite expertly.
Justin Reich: Phew, all right.
Matthew Kraft: But nonetheless, I think the conversation today is kind of like, where does tutoring fit in this world? Why should we think about tutoring, what role might it have to play to support students? But also, actually support teachers if we're being serious about kind of a collective effort to serve kids. So, the idea here I think is relatively intuitive. It just makes sense based on how kids learn from parents and their peers over time throughout history. Learning in small groups or even one-on-one settings is exactly the type of kind of serve and return value that individualized learning thrives in. And so, I think the intuition is there.
Justin Reich: Many rewards recognized that young children needed their own governess. It's not rocket science to figure out that tutoring is a model of learning that works in lots of circumstances.
Matthew Kraft: No doubt, and low and behold, when you dig into the research, it's an incredibly compelling body of rigorous evidence to suggest that tutoring programs in the wild, in school systems, after school when implemented well with high dosage, i.e. getting tutored a couple of times a week for at least half an hour or so a session really make a difference for students learning. And so-
Justin Reich: Who's done that? Is this lots of countries, lots of states? Is it by for profit providers, by schools, who did some of these studies that let us have this kind of confidence?
Matthew Kraft: So, there's been a number of meta-analysis, which are basically researchers taking a whole bunch of others studies and summarizing those studies in one kind of aggregate piece, and there's actually been a huge range of researches both in the education psychology world, the ad researcher world, the economics world that have looked at this question and primarily the evidence that we think might be most compelling comes from randomized control trials where we've randomly assigned a student to receive tutoring or business as usual in an after school experience. And, across more than 100 of these types of studies, the average impact on student achievement is equivalent to taking a kid who's at the 35th percentile of achievement and moving them up to the 50th. Now, this is a big change in the world of student achievement, educational practice, and so-
Justin Reich: There's not many things that we know how to do that help students that much, especially not many that sort of concrete... Like you just said, do this for half an hour two or three times a week. Organizationally, we can get our head around what that requires and you're telling us that across 100-plus studies where half the kids get this thing, half the kids don't, the kids as far as we can tell are sort of identical in each group. We see on average pretty substantial... This is one of the things that we can do that we can be pretty confident works pretty well for students.
Matthew Kraft: That's right, and so then the question becomes, well, it worked on average really well across these studies. Of course, there's variation, some of these did pan out, some of them far exceeded our expectations, but compared to a lot of other things we've tried out there in the wild, this is just really an efficacious thing. And so, the question is, well, these were these kind of smaller, boutique programs with folks who were really excited to implement them and what does that mean for what we can pull off at scale? Because the scale of the challenge is talking about the 50 million-plus students who are experiencing major disruptions to their learning in our public education system.
Justin Reich: So, a lot of these randomized control trials, they might've been like, oh, well let's take 100 kids in an after school program and put 50 of them here and 50 of them there, and the kids might be in the after school program because their parents knew to sign up for it and the program agrees to do this randomized control trial because it's run by a bunch of savvy, young program directors. So, while to some extent it looks like... It is in certain respects a really rigorous way to do research, but the problem is the places where you can do these kinds of studies might not be more typical settings where the vast majority of our students end up. Is that part of what you're describing is the trick of scaling? We know these things work in some special places where you can do cool studies and now we've got to figure out if they can work in many more places that might be somewhat less extraordinary.
Matthew Kraft: I think that's exactly right, and to be honest, it's not just about that. Tutoring is not free, nor is it relatively inexpensive. Now, if we ask a different question, is it cost effective? The answer is yes, it's actually quite cost effective in terms of what you get versus what it costs, but this is a moment when district budgets are just extremely strapped, and despite what is likely to be federal aid coming down the pike, those increased operating costs to just deliver regular schooling safely with the current context of the pandemic have really made for a challenging circumstance to ask schools to take on something that is costly.
So, another question in this blueprint that I've proposed with my colleague Grace Falken is to ask, well, how much would it cost to do this if we're serious about doing it? And, where might the money come from? And, then the third pillar of this idea is, where would we get all these tutors? If we're talking at scale, tutoring is about one-to-one, two-to-one, three-to-one. It's just a lot of bodies, and so how can we create creatively around who can serve as a tutor and serve effectively?
Justin Reich: If you're looking to tutor 50 million kids, then you're at least looking into millions of additional people to help do that. All right, so why don't we take those questions in turn? The first one is, how much is this going to cost? How many kids are we going to tutor, and about what do we think that would be?
Matthew Kraft: So, let's start with the idea that if we had an ambitious goal to target tutoring for all K-8 title I schools [crosstalk 00:11:47]-
Justin Reich: And, a title I school are those schools where a certain percentage of students are eligible for a free and reduced priced lunch. So, it's sort of a proxy of the number of students who live in poverty impacted homes.
Matthew Kraft: That's right, and so we're talking 10s of millions of students. Our estimate, ballpark, is that's going to cost around 10 billion... You can give a range if you'd like, but just to put that in context, about $10 billion. Now, that's about ballpark what we spend in other kind of federal support programs related to education and for example, the entire current funding for title I is about $15 billion annually. So, this is a huge amount of money, but it's also less than 1% of the total amount we spend on public education in the United States.
So, it's relative to the existing federal programs. This would be a monumental new investment, but relative to what we actually spend given that most education funding comes from local and state sources, this is actually a very small fraction.
Justin Reich: Right.
Matthew Kraft: And, let me just make one point clear, we're in a process of envisioning. So, we've kind of suspended reality here a little bit to just ask some big questions, conduct a thought experiment. I really envision this as being a slow, incremental process of growth where entrepreneurial and interested schools and districts try things out, are in the vanguard of seeing what works for them. If it does work for them, they share their best practices, their neighboring schools and districts observe things working and it grows from the ground up. We can't forget that things like kindergarten, which we take for granted in our now K-12 system, didn't exist several decades ago, and it took about 30 years for kindergarten to slowly make its way into the standard public school system that we know it to be today.
And so, I think we need to have the long view here, and that sets up this kind of funny tension between the conversation around we need to immediately step in and act to support kids who are struggling today versus who can we, over the long run, complement the group instruction that is common in public schools and classrooms with individualized instruction as a whole child approach.
Justin Reich: Because in a sense, you're saying yes there's extraordinary educational needs that are urgent like our system has never faced before, but frankly, even if there wasn't a pandemic, a national blueprint for tutoring might still be a good idea, just our regular, pre-COVID system, young people could benefit from having more individual time, one-on-one with caring adults who want to help them learn. It just happens to be that at the moment we feel these needs extremely urgently.
Matthew Kraft: That's exactly right. In fact, I wrote a blog now over five years ago, much to the spirit of, hey, what if we just had a tutor for every struggling student in this country? And, that was certainly pre-pandemic thinking. I think what's unique now is that there's just been a well spring of interest in tutoring from a lot of different corners and sectors of education and policy. And so, the timing is right to talk about what we need to scale tutoring, and it might create this unique window where we also have the flexibility and bravado to rethink schedules in a way that we might not otherwise have, given that the pandemic has forced us to do so already.
Justin Reich: We know for a fact that if we have to, we can make very substantial changes to all kinds of organizational structures in schools if we think it's what we need to do to keep students safe, to keep teachers safe, to make learning work. All right, so it'll cost us about $10 billion, which is a lot relative to what we spend now from the federal government, but not so much relative to what schools spend in general. How would the whole thing work? What would a national tutoring plan... Where would be find these people and what would they do?
Matthew Kraft: So, I think of a debate going on right now about how to scale tutoring and I think there are different visions of what this would look like and when we say national I think that evokes different visions, like does national mean that the federal government stands up a federally run, entirely operated thing that shows up in the community and start to tutor kids, or are we saying national in a sense that we want a whole bunch of tutors across this country? So, to add some specifics to that idea, I think what we're talking about is a federally funded program to scale tutoring nationally by building it from the ground up with local tutoring efforts. And so, what does that actually look like? I think it could look like a lot of different things to be honest, and there is [crosstalk 00:17:50]-
Justin Reich: There's all kinds of different contexts, there's tiny, little rural schools, there's [crosstalk 00:17:53] schools-
Matthew Kraft: Right.
Justin Reich: There's places with colleges nearby, there are places that are a million miles from colleges, so it's going to look different in lots of different kinds of places no matter what.
Matthew Kraft: It has to if we're talking about scale, and that's part of the rub here is that the evidence suggests that tutors who are full time college grads, who've had extensive training are likely to be more effective than for example current college students that are serving in a part-time role as a federal work study, or certainly even high school students that I propose we might consider. And to be clear, in an ideal world we have fully certified teachers who are trained as expert pedagogues to do this work. That is unrealistic. We have a teacher workforce of 4 million right now and are struggling to just staff those positions, let alone double that workforce, but I don't mean to say that this tutoring doesn't require important instructional skills.
It's just I think those are different from managing a full class of kids, differentiating instruction, group instruction. I think tutoring when well-supported and well-trained can be done by a range of individuals who some will be good, some will be better, some will be great depending on their skill and content knowledge and understanding their local community. But, what I think this looks like, to answer your question is basically federal dollars, ideally, or if need be philanthropic or state dollars helping districts to staff within the district system, positions that are these leadership positions that run a tutoring program and that are staffed by either coordinating and creating partnerships with local two and four-year colleges and universities, through federal work study or students who are in teacher preparation programs, expanding AmeriCorps, the national service organization that already does this at kind of small scales and through organizations like City Year or Minnesota Reading Corps.
They've got different models and the one that I think we envision is a little bit more narrowly focused on tutoring rather than some other wraparound services or after school. But, I think the key difference here is that we're talking about this is being an element of the school day, something that kids experience in a class, ideally, so that it's a regular expectation, it's got an academic culture, it is something that all students attend rather than trickling out after the school bell rings at the end of the day, and maybe staying or not. And so, these are the pieces that we envision coming together to scale tutoring based on some of the features of tutoring that have shown elements of those most effective programs.
Justin Reich: And, a K-5 school within a typical day there's sort of all kinds of time. The kids are doing independent time or other kinds of things, and everyone's just kind of rotating out with a teacher. Maybe in six, seven, eight when people sort of have classes, their study halls become tutoring sessions, or maybe you have to make school one period longer in order to fit this time in. What you're not saying is that 2:15, open up all the classrooms, and everybody goes out to their tutoring session, that this becomes more part of art, music, English, social studies, my time with a tutor, and that tutor, if I'm a real young person, might be a high school student. If I'm a middle schooler it might be a two or four-year college student.
I assume that for the students who have highest leads, people with particular kind of learning disabilities, reading disabilities or something like that, we're not pairing them with a high school student, we're pairing them with some paraprofessional specialist who knows something about those issues. Is that kind of what the model might look like?
Matthew Kraft: That's just right. We're trying to do intuitive pairing, so certainly content knowledge is going to be a factor that limits who can tutor students in upper grades. And so, we would imagine it would be the college graduates that are more likely to have come content knowledge. Although of course, it's not guaranteed depending on what they studied and tested in, but as a thought experiment, yeah, older kids who are in high school, let's find them college grads, college students.
Middle schoolers, elementary kids, potentially leveraging high schoolers. Again, less evidence there. The evidence I talked about at the beginning of the show largely comes from the kind of full time service tutoring programs or part-time adult volunteer or college tutoring program. So, the idea of leveraging high schoolers and other peers as tutors is not novel. I bet you listeners to this podcast will be able to raise their hand and say, oh, my school has a kind of small little boutique program that we've developed around reading buddies. So, I think it's intuitive, but the research based on that is limited, and so it's unclear if we think it would work at scale, that element of it.
Justin Reich: It's probably 30 million kids who are K-8 or 50 million or something like that, you've got to come up with a lot of people and certainly there are a lot of high schoolers and college-aged students. They both could help, but probably would really want to help. I think right now a lot of people feel like there's a call to service in certain kinds of ways. So, when I hear tutoring, one of the things that immediately comes to my mind is remediating students who are not on track to meeting state standards on accountability tests, but I could also imagine... To me, perhaps the most compelling idea around tutoring is that... Wouldn't it be great just to have more young people have adults who know them and listen to them and care about them and talk to them about stuff that they're interested in?
Matthew Kraft: Right.
Justin Reich: How much do you imagine a tutoring program being oriented around plugging this specific deficits and issues that adults see in young people and learners and how much do you imagine these programs as being more about a time for individual or small groups of kids to be able to learn with adults about some things that the school may want them to learn and some things that the kids may want to learn?
Matthew Kraft: So, at the end of the day I think we need to be honest with ourselves about what the goals are for the program and when we say tutoring, that's this kind of empty vessel. How do we fill that vessel, with what time that's happening? It's clear to me that in education reform, regardless of what it is, unless the teacher's on the ground and the students and the parents who are supporting them are invested in what that thing is, it's just not going to work. And so, I think that has to be a decision that families and communities and schools make.
Certainly, all kind of pitched my vision of how they might think about that decision. So, I think there is strong reason to target core literacy and numeracy skills as an element of tutoring, and I think in doing so you can, with the right amount of training and support and sustained relationships... I.e., we don't have a rotating cast of tutors showing up and you forget who your student is and you don't know much about them. You want a sustained relationship.
Justin Reich: Me and Matt are hanging out for a semester, and Matt's my guy who's going to help me this year figure some stuff out.
Matthew Kraft: That's right, and I know Justin is kind of into the Dungeons and Dragons, reading, he'll do the stuff he wants to, but not so much the other stuff. So, I'm figuring that out and I can turn on the light bulb, connect to your interests, avenues, but I think that having something to build off of as a starting point, some type of instructional materials that are about supporting kids to do grade level work by figuring out if they need extra support to be able to achieve that. It's not going back and reteaching old stuff just because they got a certain score on a test, it's asking, "What are you trying to do in your current class and what challenges are you experiencing that might prevent you from having success in that?"
And so, there's a debate about we need to accelerate, not remediate, and inside classrooms. I'm not sure that those words have as much meaning as they do in the educational policy arena debate, but I think the idea here is that if we have something that a tutor can build off of... So, when the student doesn't come with questions, which is probably likely to be quite frequent, they're not just like, "Whoa, let's talk about the weather." There's a push, there's a drive, but ideally we want more. We want them to start out by getting to know the student, by hopefully becoming another caring adult in their life, and this is anecdotal, but I think there's reason to think that tutors do a better job when they feel like they're making a difference.
And, it's easier to see that you're making a difference when the kid is making small, incremental improvements and little victories in academic content. You can see that happening, and so I think there's some kind of potential reinforcing processes there when you build on core academics. Now you might say, "Well, what about those kids who are doing great in those subjects?" This is where the kind of... Is tutoring for remediating COVID learning loss or is tutoring just about helping to improve how we deliver instruction in schools generally?
I would argue that with scarce resources in the current emergency pandemic we should target our efforts towards schools where kids have experienced concentrated harm from the pandemic. And, I can see a world where we build from there, and so we have an equity lens for targeting those communities that need the most support building the program that ideally tasks local supply of tutors who know the context of that community and know kids' daily experience and lives, but that we should think bigger.
I would be really disappointed if what happens is a rapid, but temporary, ancillary, and remedial focused tutoring effort that kind of goes by the wayside in a year or two because it's viewed as about a response for a pandemic, rather than a shift in how we think about instruction.
Justin Reich: One of the things that strikes me about an increased emphasis on literacy and numeracy, reading and math is... In the schools that we're talking about, that can kind of be all day anyway. There are a lot of schools that already feel a bunch of pressure to have more reading and math, and there's an alternate argument out there, which is like, "Don't these kids need the arts? Don't these kids need music? Don't these kids need more time outside? Don't they need to learn to code?"
One of the most interesting thing to me about our initial response to the pandemic, if you look across the policy guidance in late March from the 50 states, there were all kinds of states that offered sort of sample schedules, and there was two features that struck me about the sample schedules, one is they were shorter. People said, "Look, you're not going to get six or seven hours of work out of kids remotely. Let's just try to do two or three hours of things."
But within those two or three hours, many sample schedules said, "What our kids need during the pandemic is daily arts and daily PE. They need daily exercise and daily creative expression." And, it sort of struck me like, yeah, as it turns out, American schools do not offer children daily opportunities for creative expression and exercise during non-COVID times. This might be a kind of thing that we would want to remember. We might put a pin in this and come back to it, friends, later on. And, I also think this is just a sort of constant refrain in American policy reform. Do we focus on a few core academic things or do we focus on a kind of whole child approach? But, to folks who have been knocking on the doors of schools for a long time saying, more arts, more exercise, more STEM, more coding, a more holistic curriculum, particularly after the No Child Left Behind years that in America's most poverty impacted schools constrained the curriculum. If we're going to add 30 more minutes to the school day, even if it's through tutoring, why should that still be in math and literacy?
Matthew Kraft: I'm glad you're pushing on this point because it really cuts to the heart of, what's the purpose of schools and schooling? And, what do we want to use scarce time to do with students? So, the status quo right now is that affluent families can access tutoring in the private market and do so at a rapidly expanding rate. The private market in the US alone for tutoring is over $47 billion annually.
Justin Reich: There was an incredibly powerful article in the Boston Globe a couple of days go, which we'll put in the show notes, about kids having reading difficulties during the pandemic, and the crux of the story was there are sort of three or four stories of poverty-impacted kids, English language learners suffering tremendously and then there are a couple of rich kids who are actually with reading disabilities who are doing better during the pandemic because their parents were like, "Oh, if you're not in school, just hire a private tutor who have specialized training about these things."
The parents were saying, "Oh, lots about the pandemic isn't great, but my kids are really thriving," because they finally managed to get them the personalized supports that they need. We'll put a link to that, but I just think it was an incredibly powerful example of just what you've said, which is that if you can afford it, there's plenty of tutoring out there to be had.
Matthew Kraft: That just really highlights, in stark terms, the inequities of the status quo. And so, if we are to not think about changing how schooling works, it in effect a default acceptance of that current world. And so, what I'm saying is given the empirical evidence, given the just willingness of parents to pay a whole bunch of money for tutoring, I think it's likely that it can be effective. There's no guarantees, it has to be done well, and it won't work great at first, and you're going to have to improve. There's a whole bunch of kind of landmines, there always are.
But, with a sustained commitment to continuous improvement and problem solving, there's I think potential here as much as there is for any other things that we do in school. And so, let's have that be part of the school day, so that it's equitably accessible for all kids, particularly those kids who most need it. And then the question is, well, where do we get that time? And so, our vision is to add time to the school day because I 100% support the idea that athletics, physical education, the quote specials of developing arts and language and music are essential to not only kids' whole child education, but about making them be excited about school and engaged in school and developing those socialization skills.
So, I wouldn't argue that we need to chop off one of those periods and fill it in with drill and kill in core math and reading, but I also think that it's almost a privilege to say, well, all these other things are super important. Well, that's also likely the case if you have those basic skills to access all of those things, and if you're lacking those basic skills to read and do basic arithmetic, then you are going to have a real tough time accessing opportunity immediately after high school, if not even graduating.
And so, I think it's about an inequity issue of opening opportunity. And so, my hope is that we can do that in a way that also builds mentorship into that process, and if a school raised their hand and said, "Hey, we want to go all in on tutoring for COVID," or, "We want to go all in on a social-emotional learning curriculum," I would say, "Go for it, let's see what we can do with that. Let's learn from that practice."
Justin Reich: I think to me the kind of compelling whole child argument behind tutoring is kind of... Actually, regardless of what you do with them, the really important thing is to just get one more caring adult in young people's lives and I also think that the places where an overemphasis on an overly narrow curriculum can feel dehumanizing to kids can conceivably be humanized by a tutor who can know what their individual kid is interested in and make individual connections between, all right, well, we're doing some math here, but that's because you really like these Pokemon characters, whatever that might be, sort of a range of those kind of situations. Did you ever have a tutor when you were growing up?
Matthew Kraft: Let's see... So, I was a tutor in college, so I had that flip side of that, and when I was young, I had some trouble with my speech, and so I had a speech therapist that worked with me one-on-one, which isn't a traditional tutor, but it's someone that gives you that one-on-one attention, and then that linguistic support and feedback that I think is exactly the spirit of what we're talking about here.
Justin Reich: So, when they get to know you a little bit, someone who identifies some of the things that you're struggling with, helps you build capacity, helps you feel more confident in all of the other things [crosstalk 00:38:43]-
Matthew Kraft: I was, and I think a lot of students likely are, there's a little bit of kind of defensiveness or you can be kind of ashamed of not knowing something that you think you should technically know or be able to do, and so there has to be that relationship there with someone who's going to open up with about the struggles you might have experienced and be willing to engage rather than behavioral reaction, which is not uncommon, which is rather than do this thing that I can't, I'm just going to kind of act like I don't want to or act out, so I don't have to.
Justin Reich: And, there's a huge difference between a tutoring program that serves a wide range of students and a tutoring program that's targeted only at the most struggling kids. That becomes a kind of stigmatizing experience. Being pulled out for extra reading help feels an awful lot different than when all of your seventh grade reading buddies come into the second grade classroom and everyone goes and hugs their friend and sits down with them and does reading together. To some extent, they exist to serve the same function, to build literacy capacity, but they can feel very, very different to young people.
Matthew Kraft: I think the culture piece here is really important, and so that is why in our blueprint we argue for a school-wide model. That doesn't mean it needs to be every school in the country immediately, that's probably never realistic, but I think it's that idea that if a school is committed to it, then that means we're going to be building a schedule around that because it's for everyone, rather than how do we just deal with these five kids? They could be taken out of this, or on down to that and I'm not going to adjust the sports schedule for just five kids.
And so, I think you need this collective commitment and that's what I think a school-wide program can give you. Now, that costs dollars, and so in resource-constrained times there are real trade-offs. And so, I can totally see the argument for right now, right here focusing on specific kids that are particularly struggling, but then we have to be really conscious about the potential for that to be a stigmatizing context and how do we talk about that, how do we address it, how do we make it something where they're not ashamed, but they feel kind of supported?
Justin Reich: There's another sort of labor issue here that I imagine that you've thought of, which is that let's say districts are facing five to 10% budget cuts in the coming year in which they're just going to have to let go full time staff. It seems very difficult to hire paraprofessionals, sort of low-wage, recent college grads at the same time that you're letting go full time teachers, unionized teachers, those kinds of things. By contrast, if part of the next 1.9 trillion budget manages to sort of successfully refill the coffers of states and school districts, so that they're not... Of course, there's going to be some district somewhere who's facing budget cuts, but if generally speaking people feel like they can look ahead to 2021 funding and their crazy ventilation costs got covered and they can hire the same... Do you think it matters whether or not you're hiring these staff into a context of teacher layoffs versus reasonably robust or continuing funding for schools?
Matthew Kraft: It's such a good question. Frankly, if you're a superintendent and you're faced with these types of budget cuts and you're trying to make difficult decisions, part of the reality is that upwards of 80% of district budgets is allocated towards personnel, both in actual salaries and benefit costs. And so, when faced with substantial budget cuts, districts often have little choice, but to reduce payroll, and when the pandemic first hit, there were large reductions in school staff that largely focused on non-core instructional staff, the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers, the teacher's aides.
But without substantial federal investment, teacher layoffs are likely coming. And so, what does that mean as it relates to saying you should spend more money to hire some other folks? We shouldn't have to make that trade-off in a country as wealthy as ours is the reality.
Justin Reich: It's just bonkers. It's so obvious to me, I don't know, I've been a teacher my whole life, but the pandemic generation did nothing wrong, and every dollar we spend on them is so incredibly likely to pay itself back in the decades ahead. Of course a humane country would invest whatever it needs to do to make sure that this generation of kids gets the same or better education than past generations, but I guess that perspective is not as [crosstalk 00:44:29].
Matthew Kraft: The thing I will say is that I think there is still potential without hiring a single new person in the role of tutor to minimally rethink how we deploy adults in a school system, but if every single adult who works for districts, from the superintendent on down to the bus driver was paired with a small set of kids, and they were just the adult point person, the connection with that kid, and maybe that's just about a quick check-in, maybe it's about shared interests, but I just have to imagine that there are more creative ways to engage students with all these folks who now with the tools of remote learning could connect with students who otherwise have never had a one-on-one meeting with an adult in their school district and would benefit from it. And so, I think just budget challenges aside, we have to continue to think creatively around getting more individualized touchpoints with kids.
Justin Reich: It strikes me that one thing about making that argument in this moment is that that's just been one of the most widely adopted pushes in schools anyway. We're facing this mass wave of disengagement, understandable disengagement because more kids feel like they need to work because online school is not as engaging as in-person school because when we reduce school just to its academic components and put that online, it turns out kids actually come to school to have lunch with their friends, to play sports, to go to the debate club, and they hang out in math class because that's what you got to do to get all those other things.
And so, a response in which all kinds of districts have strengthened, I couldn't tell you how many districts. I think we don't really know exactly what's going on across the country right now, but you certainly hear over and over, we strengthened our home family connections, we've strengthened our advisory programs, we've asked more people to play more of a role in connecting with individual kids. We've asked our teachers to rearrange their schedules to have sort of more one-on-one touchpoints. It seems like the thing that you're asking for is just very much along those lines.
We've already demonstrated that we can dramatically reorganize school systems when we need to. Instead of snapping back to what we were before, what if we took this moment of plasticity and uncertainty and said, hey, when we re-congeal this thing, let's re-congeal it in such a way that a little bit less time in people's day is spent in whole class environments and a little bit more of their time each day is spent with a person who's older than them, who cares about them, who helps them learn some stuff that we all agree is important.
Matthew Kraft: I think that would be a huge silver lining to this terribly, trying, and deadly experience that our country and the world is going through. We have known for a while that our education system is not serving many students well. There are huge learning gaps and opportunity gaps in our country, and they've been persistent. And so, certainly we should be in no rush to return to the status quo, even though getting students back into the classroom is something that all of us are longing for I'm sure, like myself with two young kids, parents everywhere listening to teachers with their own kids there are crying for that, but the pandemic has just shone a harsh light on the problems of our system and exacerbated them, and put them in stark beliefs.
And so, now we can think about creative solutions, but we can also ask, "Well, what if we actually invested and went forward with the things that we've long thought are meaningful and benefit kids, but we found reasons why they weren't feasible?" It looks like this with this schedule, and the buses run at this time. So, how could we do that? I think the benefit not only is that we have been forced to change, but we've found it within ourselves to recognize that actually, yeah, change is possible for a highly decentralized, very non-dynamic system.
Justin Reich: All right, one last question for you, Matt. I don't know if you have an answer to it, but if someone today wanted to go to a school or district that had the closest thing to what you're talking about already, are there model programs out there that people should look up, should visit, should know more about?
Matthew Kraft: I think the program would look different in every context, but I started this journey as a doctoral student by visiting Match Charter School in Boston, and Match is one of the kind of original, OGs of high dosage tutoring. Michael Goldstein and his colleagues there developed a model that employs AmeriCorps service members to work full days, delivering tutoring in a tutoring class throughout an extended day and that's one of the programs that I evaluated as part of my dissertation and found incredibly large effects, and so I think there's a lot to learn from that model. Certainly the contexts of that model is very different than other large systems or rural communities and everything in between, but as a proof point that this can work, I think that's a great place to start.
Justin Reich: Matthew Kraft is an associate professor of education and economics at Brown University with Grace Falken he's the author of a new working paper, A Blueprint for Scaling Tutoring Across Public Schools. Matt, thanks for a great conversation.
Matthew Kraft: It's been a pleasure. Thanks, Justin.
Justin Reich: In the months ahead, we're going to be hearing all kinds of ideas and proposals about tutoring, and there's really no one thinking about it as ambitiously, as creatively, as thoughtfully as Matt Kraft is, so I'm glad that we could have that conversation with him. I'm Justin Reich, thanks for listening to TeachLab. Be sure to subscribe to TeachLab to get future episodes, and if you like our podcast, leave us a review.
You can check out my new book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education, available from booksellers everywhere. You can read reviews of the book, check out related media, and sign up for online events at failuretodisrupt.com, that's failuretodisrupt.com. And, join myself and Vanderbilt professor and author Rich Milner in a free, self-paced online course for educators, Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices. Through inquiry and practice, you'll cultivate a better understanding of yourself and your students. You'll gain new resources to help all students thrive and develop an action plan to work in your community to advance the lifelong work of equitable teaching.
If you've previously taken the course, we'd love to have you back. Bring your colleagues, form a learning circle in your school or community or just come and participate in our online course. You can find the link to the edX course in our show notes where you can enroll now and the course will run through August 26, 2021. This episode of TeachLab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley, recorded and sound mixed by Garret Beazley. Stay safe, until next time.