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A Tutoring Partnership Grows in Texas, Part 3

This is the third in a series on a partnership between Dallas College School of Education (SOE) and Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to mobilize aspiring teachers as tutors in high-need schools.

As at many schools around the country, teachers at Bush Elementary in Dallas have been working tirelessly to support students with unfinished learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To meet this challenge, Principal Carol Crowling and her team have taken an innovative approach—hiring teacher-candidates from a local educator-preparation program at Dallas College School of Education (SOE) to serve as tutors.

The initiative, launched via the Vetted Texas Tutor Corps, is designed to accelerate student learning while strengthening the preparation of the next generation of teachers. For Principal Crowling and Assistant Principal Courtney Boykin-Reeves, the benefits have exceeded expectations.

 

Accelerating Student Learning

The initiative began as a response to Texas state bill HB4545, which requires students with unfinished learning in math and reading to receive at least 30 hours of additional instruction in that subject. The result is that students now need to receive at least two one-hour tutoring sessions each week during a typical semester. 

This call for additional tutoring opportunities, though welcome, presented a capacity challenge—with Principal Crowling quick to note that “the district was trying to arrange all these tutors, because that affects quite a few kids across our schools.” Since Bush couldn’t make up the shortfall through in-school tutoring alone, Crowling sought to mobilize aspiring teachers from Dallas College SOE to lead after-school tutoring sessions.

The decision has proved impactful, with students clearly benefiting from the additional support. According to Crowling, “Most [students] stay for two hours of tutoring even though they only need one.”  “It’s their favorite time of day,” says Boykin-Reeves.

Results on the most recent administration of the state’s STAAR assessment point toward gains in math and reading among students who have participated in tutoring at Bush Elementary. Boykin-Reeves attributes this in significant part to those aspiring teachers serving as tutors, saying, “I don’t know that we would have been able to get there without having the additional support.”

 

Building a Strong Teacher Pipeline

In addition to the direct benefits to students, the tutoring initiative addresses another challenge faced by schools and districts across the state: the dwindling teacher pipeline.

Crowling knows the impact of teacher shortages first hand. This year, nearly a third of Bush Elementary’s classrooms have been taught by short- or long-term substitute teachers each day. According to Crowling, the pipeline problem is exacerbated by some preparation pathways where an individual can become a teacher “without ever having taken a course that prepares you for teaching”—and that this lack of preparation ultimately results in fewer teachers staying in the profession.

Similarly, Boykin-Reeves believes aspiring teachers are often left in the dark by the absence of real classroom experience—only to find out once they’re teaching that they’re not prepared to be in the classroom. Boykin-Reeves sees a typical trajectory of “about 1-3 years” after which “teachers leave the education field or hit a kind of burnout.”

By contrast, the tutoring initiative undertaken with Dallas College has influenced Bush Elementary’s recruitment practices and offered a model for strengthening teacher pipelines more broadly. For the aspiring teachers working at Bush, it has provided a real taste of instruction to help them determine if teaching is their path; and for leaders at the school, it has offered a fuller picture of aspiring teachers’ capabilities and potential fit for a future role.

As the inaugural year of the tutoring initiative comes to a close, Principal Crowling is more convinced than ever that the tutors “will be way ahead of a brand new teacher because they’ve had that opportunity,” adding that she would hire candidates with this level of preparation “in a heartbeat.”

 

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