A Saga tutor works with students at Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, D.C.

It is undeniable that the pandemic exacerbated long-standing educational inequities. According to long-term trends from the National Center for Education Statistics, students are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.

Tutoring—one of the oldest pedagogies—is widely considered a powerful strategy to address learning loss, with over $4 billion dollars in ESSR funds invested in services recently. Educational leaders have been aware of tutoring since the time of Socrates. In the past, the United States spent exorbitant amounts on tutoring, especially through federal supplemental educational services during the No Child Left Behind era, which showed little evidence of effectiveness.

So, what sets the present apart? Two main factors: 1) Education leaders now recognize not all tutoring is of equal quality, and 2) Schools and districts have realized they can design and implement effective tutoring models on their own.

Not Just Any Tutoring

Too often, tutoring is introduced when a student is already in an academically precarious situation, is administered by an untrained individual, and only happens for a small amount of time, maybe once a week. High-dosage or high-impact tutoring, on the other hand, is aligned with classroom instruction and is embedded in the regular school day to supplement classroom teachers.

A review of almost 200 rigorous studies found that high-impact tutoring is defined as more than three days per week, or at a rate of at least 50 hours over 36 weeks, and is one of the few school-based interventions with demonstrated large positive effects on both math and reading achievement. It’s concentrated, individualized, and builds a positive relationship with caring adults, which we know is at the core of learning.

Small groups are key to this model. They allow the tutor to get to know students personally. Tutors can learn how to differentiate based on student needs, which is much easier with just a few students.

When students are working in pairs or groups of three, it also helps meet a sometimes-overlooked need for adolescents. In smaller groups, it’s easier for students to build trust with peers and their instructor. This makes it more likely that they will put themselves out there in their learning and take more risks. Developmentally, adolescents typically prioritize their social needs. To that end, high school students benefit from spending a lot of instructional time learning from each other, or problem-solving independently or in groups. This model can be difficult to facilitate in a whole-class environment with a wide range of student needs.

For students missing the foundational skills necessary to progress to more advanced concepts, only working on grade-level skills in a large, whole-class environment can be intimidating, and may not offer the foundation they need to deeply understand new material. It can be difficult for them to ask questions and connect the dots between the gaps of knowledge and what they are trying to learn in their current coursework.

An article from Education Week, published in 2020, made a similar point, stating, “in such small groups, tutors can better customize teaching to the specific skills within an aligned curriculum that a student has missed, or the prerequisite skills they need to practice.”

Aligned Curriculum and Ongoing Coaching

The success of high-impact tutoring is at least partially dependent on the tutor and the curriculum. An integral characteristic of high-impact tutoring is ongoing professional development. After-school tutoring is sometimes conducted by volunteers, peers, or parent tutors who may not have proper support or standards-aligned content. Effective tutors don’t need to be certified teachers if they receive training and feedback on their instruction.

Research efforts over multiple years have demonstrated that being a certified teacher isn’t a prerequisite to having a dramatic impact on academic outcomes for students because the role of a tutor is very different from the role of a teacher. With training, ongoing feedback, and a structured program around a curriculum that aligns with what’s happening in the classroom, you can create the conditions necessary to help students, even if you don’t have an education background.

Embedded in School Communities

Tutoring has often been something that happens before or after school. Because of this, students must have the availability after school to work with a tutor, and still be able to connect the help they receive to their class work.

The fact is that all children deserve to have the extra help and skill enrichment they need to learn and excel. When we can only offer these opportunities to those with financial privilege, our less-resourced students continue to fall behind. Research shows that when tutoring programs are scheduled during school hours, students are much more likely to attend, and can more easily connect what they are working on with their tutor to their overall school experience.

For example, the odds are even if a student can attend an after-school tutoring program (they don’t have to work, and they have transportation, etc.), the program might be completely disconnected or not at all aligned with the standards of the district. And, even if this student improves based on what’s taught in the program, they could go to class and still not be able to meet the expectations of their in-class learning objectives. If tutoring is aligned with course sequencing and is designed to support the improvement of grades in the class, it creates a condition where you’re more likely to see success than if a tutoring program is just operating after school in isolation, disconnected from what’s going on in a student’s classes.

A Scalable and Affordable Solution

You might be thinking, sure, high-impact tutoring can work in a small school, on a small scale, but what about across entire districts and states? How do we make it available and affordable to everyone who needs it?

Together with Saga Education, Chicago Public Schools, and the New York City Department of Education, the University of Chicago Education Lab has been researching exactly how this can be done. With Saga Education’s blended learning model, students alternate daily between working with their Saga tutor and on an educational platform. In this model, students can connect with a caring adult while progressing at their own pace on an adaptive math platform.

Although this research is ongoing, preliminary results show that this high-dosage tutoring model—which can help double the ratio of students to tutors—is cost effective and has positive impacts on math test scores and math GPA, and contributes to decreased math course failures.

Reimagining Sustainable Education

Teachers in today’s education landscape are struggling. The resources, largely in human capital, are often scarce, and the expectations are sky high. Teachers, both new and practiced, are struggling to stay in the profession due to many variables: frustrating politics, the often-underwhelming pay, and the incredibly high-stakes task of ensuring all students get what they need—both academically and emotionally.

High-impact tutoring programs offer more than just a resource for students and vendors under contract. Such programs want schools and districts to see their mission and vision of collaborative work in redesigning education. The hope is to create a partnership in co-designing ways to allocate resources and funding for a more customized, sustainable model for everyone. Being able to rethink the way teachers work with the support of other adults—this is sustainable education.

Suggestions for District Implementation of High-Dose Tutoring
1 | Remember: It’s not one-size-fits-all.
Customized tutoring and support, guidelines to work from, and room for creativity and autonomy to fit your district or school’s needs are important. The coaching tutors receive allows them to understand how to individualize their lessons according to each student’s needs within the curriculum and skill requirements.
2 | You need full-time personnel and dedicated grants or funds.
It’s important to have someone dedicated to this program full time. In other words, it shouldn’t just be tacked onto someone’s existing position. You’ll need resources, and funds devoted to it to make it happen the right way. There are many ways to tap into federal- or state-based funding—like community engagement funding—to help make a program like this a reality.
3 | Adaptability is important.
Start small. Pilot a few schools to work out the problems on a smaller scale. You’ll need to be able to quickly pivot in real time as you get this started in a small pilot situation so you can later roll it out on a larger scale.
4 | Thoughtful planning matters.
Planning around quality of curriculum, training and professional development, and resources for the managers of your tutors goes a long way toward a high impact on student learning.

AJ Gutierrez is the co-founder, vice chair, and chief policy and public affairs officer at Saga Education, where Maryellen Leneghan is vice president of district partnerships. Learn more at saga.org.


Bouchrika, I. (2023, July 27). Teacher burnout statistics: Challenges in K–12 and Higher Education. Research.com. research.com/education/teacher-burnout-challenges-in-k-12-and-higher-education

Heubeck, E. (2023, February 1). Talking high-dosage tutoring: A researcher and schools chief share strategies. Education Week. edweek.org/leadership/talking-high-dosage-tutoring-a-researcher-and-schools-chief-share-strategies/2023/02

National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Long-term trends in reading and mathematics achievement. nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=38

Neitzel, A, & Krajewski, J. (2023, August 30). What makes a good tutor?
You don’t need a college degree to be great. The 74. the74million.org/

Robinson, C., Kraft, M., Loeb, S., & Scheuler, B. (2021, February). Design principles for accelerating student learning with high-impact tutoring. Annenberg and Results for America. annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/EdResearch_for_Recovery_Design_Principles_1.pdf

Sawchuk, S. (2020, August 19). High-dosage tutoring is effective, but expensive. Ideas for making it work. Education Week. edweek.org/leadership/high-dosage-tutoring-is-effective-but-expensive-ideas-for-making-it-work/2020/08

University of Chicago Education Lab. (2023, March). High-dosage tutoring at scale: Evidence from a cost-effective, blended-learning tutoring model. hechingerreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/High-Dosage-Tutoring-at-Scale.pdf