PATHS to Tutor Act: Helping Students Overcome Pandemic Learning Loss

Tutor helping student

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

The COVID-19 pandemic has set back learning for millions of students and exacerbated existing educational inequalities countrywide. A recent study by McKinsey Analysis found that Black, Latinx and lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning, resulting in their falling further behind and expanding the achievement gap by 15% to 20%. To help these students overcome pandemic learning loss, the Partnering Aspiring Teachers with High-Need Schools (PATHS) to Tutor Act was introduced on February 25 by a bipartisan group, including Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

The PATHS to Tutor Act is critical to helping institutions in high-needs areas work with local schools and other community partners to support K-12 students and ensure a reliable pipeline of effective educators. The legislation provides opportunities for teacher candidates to work directly with students in high-needs and hard-to-staff schools to address learning loss. It also expands access to small-group tutoring in these areas while reducing economic burdens on teachers by allowing the tutoring to count toward clinical hours. Many tutoring positions will be paid, providing future teachers a source of income to help offset college debt while equipping them with hands-on experience in their field. The act creates a $500 million competitive grant program, which will be dispersed via collaborative partnerships between educator-preparation programs, K-12 schools, and community organizations.

At Salisbury University’s Samuel W. and Marilyn C. Seidel School of Education, we have offered high-quality tutoring through our May Literacy Center since 1999. This one-on-one tutoring supports students of all ability levels and allows our candidates to teach each student based upon individual strengths or needs. The PATHS to Tutor Act will enable us to expand our tutoring capabilities to one-on-one or small-group (four students or fewer) interaction with multiple sessions each week, matching content- and grade-specific tutors to students. It also will provide standardized content and training for teacher candidates.

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where Salisbury University is located, there are many small, rural communities where students and families may not have access to the same resources as higher-income, more suburban students. In Maryland, professional development school (PDS) models are mandated by state law and are an important component of the program accreditation approval process. Through our PDS network, our faculty and staff can connect with local public and non-public schools to develop collaborative partnerships that provide high-needs students with access to tutoring from our future educators and help promote learning.

A recent study by the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) found that low-income students experienced a 7% decline in learning, while wealthier students had a 5% gain during the pandemic. The PATHS to Tutor Act seeks to provide academic and social-emotional support to those students most affected through intensive, structured tutoring. The arrangement also strengthens future teachers by providing them with real opportunities to practice classroom skills. Tutoring programs must be structured in a way that is accessible and open to all students. In-person tutoring often is preferred, helping students step away from the computer screen. However, for those students who cannot be physically present, continuing to offer virtual tutoring is equally important. The PATHS to Tutor Act will ensure institutions can engage in before- and after-school tutoring opportunities or work with local schools to build tutor sessions into the school day, further expanding access to students in need. Additionally, the legislation provides increased access to broadband and addresses learning loss by providing tutoring support at home.

Mobilizing our future teachers as tutors to address learning loss is a win-win situation. Not only does the national tutoring program support students during a time of crisis, but it also provides hands-on educational opportunities for our teacher candidates.

Laurie Henry is dean of the Seidel School of Education, Salisbury University.

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