A tutoring program helping School District 65 students recover from pandemic-related learning loss does not have any money yet for the upcoming school year, and the federal funding well is about to run dry.

This is no surprise, as the dollars from Washington were for a finite, post-COVID time frame.

However, finding a way save the elementary and middle school tutoring program is a District 65 priority, as the program’s results, officials say, are encouraging.

“This is one of the things that we can concretely point to” for reducing the learning gap between white students and students of color, said board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan at a committee meeting earlier this month.

Academic Skills Centers, as the district calls them, are among many things paid for by federal ESSR (Elementary and Secondary Emergency School Relief) funds, but District 65 has already spent most of the $10.7 million it was allocated for programs, personnel and supplies, tutoring included.

The law required that at least 20% of a district’s ESSR funding be set aside to help learning loss recovery. A District 65 report shows about $2.5 million has been spent for “Supplemental Tutoring/Academic Support” since 2020. But there’s no more, and the tutors don’t work for free.

“There is no ESSR funding left to pay for ASCs in the 2023-24 school year,” said Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial officer.

Obefemi told Evanston Now that the plan is to find other dollars for 2023-24, by “reviewing alternative sources of funding” still to be determined.

Around 1,900 students testing below grade level have had what’s called “high-dosage” tutoring this school year, a 200-student increase over the year before.

The small-group sessions cover either reading or math.

According to Lee Hart, the district’s extended learning manager, about two-thirds of the students receiving the tutoring “are on track to demonstrate accelerated learning” as part of the effort to bring those students up to grade level.

Of course, that also means that around a third of the students are not catching up, which Hart called “concerning.” But overall, district officials say there has been progress.

“It’s working,” said Lindsay-Ryan. “It’s not perfect, but it’s working.”

Some of the other District 65 ESSR expenditures went for cleaning the buildings during the pandemic, personal protective equipment, other items such as desks and chairs, “wellness support for students and teachers” and for guidance counselors. Those federal dollars are about to run out as well.

One major question that cannot be answered yet is whether the tutoring will have any long-term impact, or just a short-term bump.

In the ASCs, each student is measured based on an individual “stretch” goal, so progress for one youngster may not be the same as for another.

However, standardized tests from this spring will indicate how all of those being tutored score on the same evaluation.

Plus, beyond the current tests, educators want to find out if there are any long-term gains from ASC tutoring, into later grades and perhaps even high school.

Despite the need for more long-term answers, short term, at least, District 65 leaders believe the ASCs are paying off.

Now the issue becomes paying for the services.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. One of the few things that just about everyone would agree is a success …. and they don’t have money for it. If there was an actual will to provide these services, there are plenty of places to cut to fund tutoring.

  2. Just wondering if this program is a success …where is the data showing that? Before we can call a program a success I would think we would need data to support this claim. Academic Skills Centers are not a replacement for Reading Specialists. ASC tutoring is done by paraprofessionals. I wonder if putting our striving learners with minimally trained professionals is the best that District 65 can do? It’s time to get Reading Specialists and Math Coaches back with kids. It’s amazing we proclaim success without any data. District 65 removed Reading Recovery and Descubriendo la Lectura (reading support in Spanish) claiming it did not yield high impact results. The administration claimed this intervention was not closing the achievement gap. Mind you Reading Recovery and DLL have an international data collection center that has been capturing data since 1984. District 65 has jumped on the educational band wagon of The Science of Reading and is training staff in LETRS (which has little to no data supporting its effectiveness). Ahhh and new for a new Superintendent to perhaps change course again…Evanston’s striving learners continue to be harmed…

    1. As a former educator in the district, we did not have any real space for an academic center (it was a makeshift space outside of the school auditorium) , students got pulled out of their fine arts classes to be tutored. From my understanding the tutoring did not directly correlate with any curriculum taught but was from a computerized program, increasing screen time. In my opinion, taking children out of the arts (media arts, visual arts, drama)–the only class where they might feel a sense of joy and belonging–to get math or reading tutoring to boost map scores negatively impacts a child’s educational experience.

  3. Data on success is important, but it is safe to say that funding SOME type of individualized support program at an increased level is desperately needed, with regard to individual or small group tutoring for those struggling with basic reading and math. This is fundamental for Equity and Equality between the economic ‘haves and have-not’s’. Time to prioritize funding for remedial learning on a one-on-one level. This is what is fundamental, and all the S.E.L. and consultant fees is fluff in comparison. While it is obvious that a Reading Specialist is going to do a better job than just a para-pro, if we can afford two reasonably good para-pro’s vs. only one reading specialist, at least at the lower levels maybe the para-pro’s would offer better value-impact IF that means doubling the one-on-one time given to each student in need.

    Let’s not overthink this – it does not take a fancy consultant to tell that remedial tutoring is the most basic need for struggling learners. I say that as someone who is paying big $$$$ for individual tutoring for my son who is struggling to learn with a minor learning disability (ADD). The problem is more with my child, than with the school system, and the fix for my child has been one-on-one tutoring that meets my child exactly where he is at, with any educational concept. I attribute a massive amount of private tutoring to the significant success my son has made in school and I believe the biggest return on investment possible would be to provide this for those who are struggling low-income students. Yes, success can be bought. Based on our family’s experience, I believe enough individual tutoring can readily take a kid from C to A grade in standard classes.

    No trendy educational program required at the primary school level (old-fashioned phonics is actually back in vogue in some circles), just at a minimum, significant one-on-one tutoring by someone of some competency and basic training. No new curriculum applying current science of learning trends can fully help many of the kids with learning issues or ADD – the silver bullet is to have lots of one-on-one tutoring.

    If we cannot afford to pay for adequate individual learning support for struggling students, it is ridiculous and disgusting to be paying first for all the excess administrators and consultants of D65. Time to get back to basics as a fiscal priority, but this may go against the needs of the educational-industrial complex!

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