Literacy Tutoring in Baltimore

March 2021 / Abell Reports / Education
Male tutor works with a young girl on reading.
How can we best support young students who are struggling to read in school? In the context of unprecedented disruptions to our educational system, this Abell Report summarizes the research, documents the current landscape of programs, and offers recommendations.

The Baltimore City Public School System (City Schools) faces a major challenge as more students begin to return to school buildings following the COVID-19 closures. Although City Schools invested in high-quality remote teaching and learning systems, many students have been unable to take full advantage due to lack of technology and challenging conditions within their homes and communities. As a result, many students will be far behind grade-level expectations, in addition to the many students who were already far behind before the pandemic began. To support these students, swift action is required.

For elementary school students struggling in reading, academic tutoring—either 1-to-1 or in small groups— has been found to be the most effective intervention. The average proven tutoring program for elementary reading has an effect size of +0.41, equivalent to an increase from the 50th to the 60th percentile, and to about five additional months of learning. These are very large impacts.

This report, “Literacy Tutoring for Baltimore: What we know, where we are, and how to move forward,” looks at the research on tutoring at a national level and what programs are currently available and scalable in Baltimore.

Part One of this report, authored by Dr. Robert Slavin, defines tutoring, summarizes the national research base on its effectiveness, and documents best practices. Part Two, authored by Stephanie Safran, describes the current landscape of literacy tutoring supports available to students in Baltimore City, including an examination of the existing evidence on models’ effectiveness, as well as a discussion of opportunities and challenges inherent in scaling up existing programs. The report concludes with Part Three, recommendations for next steps.

Recommendations include:

  1. Make a concerted effort to provide intensive tutoring services to the nearly 18,000 kindergarten through fifth grade students in Baltimore City who, during and after the pandemic, are reading below grade level.
  2. Use an approach that matches each student to the best-suited tutoring intervention.
  3. Continue working to ensure that the tutoring strategy is implemented in a data-driven way—equitably and with fidelity.
  4. Draw on leadership at multiple levels, including the mayor’s office, to ensure success of the strategic expansion of academic tutoring throughout Baltimore.
  5. Allocate a robust stream of federal, state, and philanthropic funds to ensure that every child reading below grade level receives support.
  6. Expand national tutoring services through existing initiatives such as AmeriCorps.
  7. Conduct additional research on tutoring, particularly evaluations of interventions for middle and high school students.

With the American Rescue Plan Act and possible future COVID-relief funding from the federal government, we have a unique opportunity to act on creating a comprehensive tutoring system for Baltimore City.