A six-year-old boy looked up at his teacher, searching for confirmation that the sounds emanating from his mouth matched the word she was pointing to. His face told his teacher that he was unsure of what the word was, so his teacher patiently modeled how to blend the sounds together. Then, she pointed to an illustration of a little pig rolling around in the mud, helping him connect the pictures in the book with the words on the page. The boy smiled in recognition: Mud.

This was something I witnessed regularly when I worked as an instructional coach with a dozen kindergarten and first grade teachers in high-poverty, rural elementary schools in North Carolina. I met with teachers twice a week to watch their one-on-one tutoring sessions with emerging readers, and I saw firsthand how targeted, intensive tutoring can accelerate students’ reading development and strengthen the relationships between children and their teachers.

Over the last two years of the pandemic, students, especially students of color, have experienced illness and death of family members, economic hardships, uneven instruction, inadequate internet access, and stress. These challenges have had a direct impact on their learning and have exacerbated educational inequities. Research confirms my personal experience that well-implemented, targeted, and intensive tutoring programs are one of the most impactful ways to address students’ unfinished learning.

Ed Trust recently released a report, developed in partnership with FutureEd and ERN, highlighting five states — Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Texas — that have presented promising plans for using the federal relief funding from the American Rescue Plan to build effective intensive tutoring system. These strategies include:

  • Statewide investments
  • Research-based program guardrails
  • Providing publicly available resources for district and school leaders
  • Offering statewide professional development opportunities
  • Taking legislative action
  • Creating central sources of information on state-approved
  • High-quality tutoring programs and vendors
  • Targeting services to schools’ most underserved students

These are just plans, and there is still work to be done to get from these blueprints to fully functioning, effective tutoring systems. But, in this moment, when district and school leaders are understandably overwhelmed by the extent of students’ unfinished learning and struggling to find enough qualified teachers to staff their classrooms and support their students, it is helpful — and inspiring — to see where state leaders are following the research and committing to using their resources to give students the targeted, intensive supports they need — and deserve — to be successful in school and beyond.