We Need a ‘National Tutoring Corps’ to Fix Gaps in our Children’s Education Before College


Reprinted from The Hill

Amid the chaos currently afflicting higher education, there is another slow-moving disaster that has us all worried. The pandemic inflicted untold injury on the educational achievements of young people. In higher education, we already see the results on high school students, but we fret even more about the impact on little kids, the disruption of that all-important early childhood education. It is a ticking time bomb that cannot wait to be addressed until students come to our campuses, or worse, fail to come to college at all. Unless the nation does something, we all will take a serious hit in global competitiveness, to say nothing of our children’s opportunities.

Here is an idea. Let’s build a National Tutoring Corp. For decades we have discussed the benefits of national service, the kind of purpose-driven experience that would bond young people across the country.  We may now face a crisis urgent enough to convince us to act. We should create a small army of tutors to help our children catch up from the pandemic gaps in their education.

We could recruit young people to a national service corps with the promise of generous college loan forgiveness, at a level that makes it worth their while. Instead of loan forgiveness that just benefits the lucky, college students would be earning that investment. It would be an investment in education at every level.

This proposal would help solve multiple problems at once. First, we lost serious ground in our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy. According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (the “nation’s report card”), the educational attainment of our young people declined dramatically since 2019. Math scores suffered a “devastating” loss, the largest ever recorded. Only 26 percent of eighth graders have proficiency in math, and only a third in reading.

Even worse, decades of progress in closing the opportunity gap have been wiped away. In a country built on the promise of meritocracy, we are allowing that reality to shift dramatically overnight. We worked so hard for so long to ensure that children born into poverty could slowly but steadily catch up. Now they’ve fallen massively behind, and yet again we risk wasting their talent and crushing their dreams. I fear the next assessment of fourth and eighth graders during the 2023-24 school year will inspire more hand-wringing when its results are released.

As Education Secretary Miguel Cardona put it, the situation is “appalling and unacceptable.” How we respond to this “moment of truth for education,” he added, will determine our nation’s standing in the world. Back in the 1950s, shocked that the Soviets pulled ahead in the space race, the U.S. quickly founded science and math schools like the one I graduated from. This should be another Sputnik moment.

Research shows “high-dose” individual tutoring works, moving at exactly the right pace and building confidence. Other countries, such as Britain, and some states, such as Tennessee, have specifically funded tutoring to catch up from pandemic learning loss. Our new tutors would require meaningful training, but not nearly as much as is needed to command a full classroom.

Flooding elementary schools with college-educated young people will also inspire the next generation of students with the possibilities of education.

National public service would also solve another simmering crisis by bringing together young people across demographic and political divides, as the military does now. At a moment when our nation has cleaved into tribes and retreated into silos, we also have a crucial need to invest in the skills of civil discourse. We should bring together young people across the political divide to focus on the common good and, quite literally, to maintain our nation’s standing in the world.

Years ago, I spent time volunteering to tutor in a third-grade class and will never forget Tony, the brilliant, bespeckled nine-year-old whom I’m quite sure will someday find a cure for cancer. For the rest of my life when I think about policy choices, I remember his eager face. He made me think hard about how we distribute educational and economic opportunities. He made me realize how much talent we squander.

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