Tutoring is the hot new topic in K-12 education. With everyone from the schoolhouse to the White House pointing to it as the solution to learning loss, it’s worth asking not only when and why “high-dosage tutoring” (HDT) became so popular, but also what exactly people mean when they say it.
Distinguishing between the term and the methods is essential when attempting to cut through the noise and get after what we’re really interested in, namely: How do I as an educator improve outcomes for my students? While the term “high-dosage tutoring” seems to have first been used around 2014, its practices and principles are much older, and in fact, are likely known to you today, just perhaps under a different name.
History of “High-Dosage Tutoring”
The term “high-dosage tutoring” started to gain popularity in 2017 when Harvard released their study on its efficacy on reading achievement in New York City. The topic has been garnering increasing interest from both researchers and practitioners in K-12 education, particularly once COVID hit. Politicians were quick to tap HDT as the solution to learning loss, with billions of dollars in ESSER funding allocated to the practice. Unfortunately, many companies improperly co-opted the term, leading to many dissatisfied districts, and 1000s of students who didn’t receive the support they deserved and needed.
What High-Dosage Tutoring Is (and Isn’t)
“Unlimited” on-demand tutoring is not high-dosage tutoring, and the tutoring companies who offer the former while claiming to offer the latter, do a disservice to kids. While HDT has consistently been shown to accelerate learning for a variety of students (the widest of any intervention), on-demand tutoring only supports highly-motivated students who tend to be performing at the top of their class anyway. It does little for students who don't know they need help, let alone the structures or encouragement in place to access it.
As part of the EdResearch for Recovery project, in early 2021, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University released design principles to help schools and districts maximize the effectiveness of tutoring:
- Multiple sessions/week: At least three or more per week, scheduled during the school day
- Tutor: student ratio: Group size limited to no more than three or four students, with 1:1 being the most effective
- Relationships and curriculum: Ensure consistent relationships for students with trained, professionally supported tutors, provided with high-quality curricular materials
- Assessment and progress reporting: Use data and assessment (especially continuous informal assessment) to best support individual learners
Personalized Instruction, By Any Name, Works
You may be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute, isn’t that just tier 2 and tier 3 intervention?” I had the exact same thought, and the short answer is: Yes, when designed properly, high-dosage tutoring is an extremely effective tier 2, and even tier 3 intervention for any student population.
All educators have known that a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction, and certainly intervention, can never work for a long time. However, personalized support for every student has simply not been possible–there are simply not enough adults at a school site to meet the needs of today’s students. I can vividly recall the hours spent trying to ensure all of my sixth-grade history students had access to each day’s lesson, and the reality is, there were days when some still didn’t.
Having an additional team of tutors to support not only my students but (by proxy) me as their teacher, would’ve been transformative. I would’ve been able to focus on making the lesson as engaging as possible, knowing my students were getting targeted support in foundational skills like reading comprehension from a caring tutor.
This is why high-dosage tutoring is so popular today. Whether you call it tier 2 support, intervention, targeted-intensive tutoring, high-impact tutoring, or something else, it is simply the newest term for what we as educators have always known works: providing personalized instruction to a student in a 1:1 or small-group setting based on their unique needs.