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High-Dosage Tutoring, Accelerated Degrees, and Computer Science Policies: This Month in Education Research

Five ideas and solutions for reimagining American schools as the nation pulls itself out of the pandemic

We need to “reimagine education.”

As America’s schools pull themselves out of the covid-19 pandemic, we hear this phrase constantly. But it lacks specificity. Reimagine how? What? By whom? For whom? With schools resuming in-person instruction—and plotting what comes next—educators and policymakers are looking for creative solutions to meet students’ needs. And while there are a lot of ideas, money, and research aimed at the issue, the challenge is vast and can be difficult to navigate.

This column is a monthly space where I’ll highlight proposed ideas, interesting pilots, research, state or district solutions, and other innovations that provide insight into what a reimagined education system could look like. Some ideas are already showing results, other have yet to be tested, and none are one-size-fits-all solutions. But they demonstrate the breadth and depth of new energy in the education world, post-pandemic.

This month, I look at career and technical education in Louisiana, software programs that help address literacy gaps, intensive tutoring programs, access to STEM courses, and college enrollment and retention during covid-19.

The Pandemic’s Dramatic Impact Calls for Big Changes—Like High-Dosage Tutoring

McKinsey & Company’s report “How COVID-19 caused a global learning crisis” surveys the pandemic’s effects on learning around the world. Unsurprisingly, their research paints a dire picture. Pandemic-related learning delays exacerbated historical inequalities, leaving students in low-income countries even more behind. In North America, students experienced an average of 4.3 months of learning delay. McKinsey suggests several solutions to mitigate learning delays and help students succeed, including a multi-pronged approach to catch students up to their grade-level, with a focus on three levers: more time, more dedicated attention, and more focused content.

Bar chart with eight rows of blue bars under the heading Students In Some Regions May Be More Than a Year Behind While In Others They May Lag By Four to Seven Months

McKinsey & Company

Specifically, they suggest high-dosage tutoring delivered three to five times a week by trained college graduates during the school day. They use acceleration academies as a model, which provide 25 hours of targeted instruction in reading to small groups of students during vacations. (High dosage-tutoring can also be used for math.) In just a week, students have gained three months of reading instruction. These supports have improved course completion rates by two to four times over traditional “re-teaching” efforts—in other words, teaching the same content again in the same way.

AP Computer Science Principles Closes STEM Gaps

In their new report, “Exploring the state of computer science education and rapid policy expansion,” Brookings Senior Fellow Michael Hanson and research analyst Nicolas Zerbino take a close look at computer science education policies around the country. They find that as states adopted such policies, overall participation in Advanced Placement Computer Science courses (AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles) increased. They also found CS participation gaps narrowed for female, Black, and Latino students due to the introduction of the new AP CSP exam (not policy adoption), while passing rates on the exams also increased.

Graph with two fields, one in gray for CSA the other in light blue for CSP, with the years 2012-2020 on the X axis and the values 0-150,000 on the Y axis, under the heading AP Computer Science Exam Participation Has Surged In Recent Years

Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings

Hanson and Zerbino explain the importance of computer science participation – students who master these skills see more employment opportunities. This is partially because the skills students learn in computer science courses prepare them for jobs in the high-demand tech industry, and partially because the US is not producing enough specialists to meet future employment demands. Increasing the number of students who have access to CS education, not only prepares individuals for good careers, but also helps maintain our country’s economic growth.

Louisiana Students Can Graduate With a High School Diploma and an Associate Degree

For Real Clear Policy, Rick Hess and Hayley Sanon look at “Louisiana's Bold Move to Overhaul High School Career and Technical Education.” Louisiana is looking for ways to make high school more relevant for students that aren’t necessarily interested in a four-year degree. Last fall, they launched Fast Forward, an initiative where its eight Regional Labor Market Areas developed economically relevant graduation pathways for high school students. Through the program, students enroll in apprenticeships and associate degree programs while in 11th and 12th grades. When they graduate, participants leave high school with their diploma and an associate degree that they can immediately use (if they want).

Graphic titled Fast Forward Pathways with three info boxes underneath: TOPS University Pathway, High-Demand Apprenticeship Pathway, and Jump Start 2.0 Pathway

Louisiana Department of Education

Thirty-nine Fast Forward pathways have been adopted for statewide use, and districts can seek approval to create more. The state is also considering incentives that are awarded when an school’s students enroll in a pathway.

Digital Libraries and Platforms Help Reverse Unfinished Learning—For Now

Between March 2020 and January 2020, Education Week administered more than two dozen surveys on technology use in the classroom to a nationally representative sample of teachers, principals, and district leaders. It published its findings in the report “How Tech-Driven Teaching Strategies Have Changed During the Pandemic.” The surveys showed ways that schools are using technology to reverse unfinished learning caused by covid-19, like software programs that address literacy gaps. One example: Student engagement on Renaissance Learning’s digital library service myOn doubled from fall 2019 to fall 2020. As a result, Renaissance Learning linked their Accelerated Reader program with myOn so students could access quizzes and teachers could track when they were taken at home versus in school.

Circular chart tracking Frequency of Using Digital/Online Reading Programs, with five values in different colors: 32%, 31%, 19%, 11%, 7%

Education Week

With in-person instruction resuming, the question is whether teachers and schools will continue to use these platforms or not. Decisions will be driven by how easy the technology is to use, its effectiveness, and its flexibility.

K–12 Schools Aren’t the Only Institutions Grappling With the Pandemic Effects—Colleges Are, Too

In 2021, College Board released “College Enrollment and Retention in the Era of Covid,” a report that outlines enrollment changes from the 2019 to 2020 cohorts and retention changes from the 2018 to 2019 cohorts. Their key findings include a large decline of enrollment rates at two-year colleges and a decrease in four-year enrollment by students with GPAs of As and higher in high school. The latter could indicate that more students are deferring enrollment or taking a gap year.

Five bar charts, each with three sets of data from 2018, 2019, and 2020, tracking enrollment rates bye sector: Public 2-year, Public 4-year, or Private Nonprofit 4-year; Public or Private Nonprofit 4-year; Public 4-year; Private Nonprofit 4-year; and Public 2-year

College Board

Changes in enrollment and retention matter: research indicates that delayed college enrollment and dropping out after the first-year decrease students’ completion rates—and their lifetime earnings. Just like the K–12 space, colleges must continue innovating to effectively reach and retain incoming students. To help students succeed, the authors call for more research into instructional model innovation and needed changes in the higher ed landscape.