All Articles Education Insights We owe kids the right to read, and proven high-dosage tutoring helps

We owe kids the right to read, and proven high-dosage tutoring helps

We need to stop failing our children and adopt high-dosage tutoring programs to help them succeed, asserts education researcher Nancy Madden, co-founder of Success for All.

5 min read


Focus on foreground 10 year old Hispanic student sitting at library round table with mid adult educator and reading book together for article on tutoring

(Xavierarnau/Getty Images)

Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

The research is clear. Students who do not read effectively by third grade are likely to fail to graduate from high school. According to the Nation’s Report Card, also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18% of students in poor communities pass that bar. The excuses are many, and the consequences are life-long. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We know how to teach children to read. 

Consider the experience at Par Excellence STEM Academy, an elementary school in Ohio that serves a community in which almost all of the students meet federal guidelines for poverty. The school was about to close due to poor test scores in 2011 — only a quarter of their students were reaching proficiency in reading, according to state assessments. When a federal grant offered support to adopt a research-proven comprehensive school improvement program called Success for All, the staff jumped at the chance. 

Building back

The program introduced: 

  • A phonics-based reading curriculum.
  • An instructional model emphasizing cooperative learning among both students and staff.
  • A schoolwide goal-setting and progress monitoring system to celebrate students’ progress during the year.
  • Small-group tutoring to provide extra support for 20% of students.
  • Systems to engage parents. 

In the first year, the number of students succeeding doubled. In the second year, 90% of third-graders succeeded in reaching reading proficiency on the state assessment.  

Par Excellence has maintained this program for over 10 years. Their students continue to thrive, with 89% of third-graders achieving proficiency in 2023. In Steubenville, Ohio, another high-poverty area with four elementary schools that use the same approach, 98% were proficient in 2023. But in the state as a whole, the proficiency rate for students in grades three through eight in high-poverty schools was 38%.  

How can this be? Par Excellence and Steubenville demonstrate that it isn’t the kids. If we rigorously implement proven strategies, students will succeed.

A recent focus on the science of reading has resulted in many states legislating changes to the materials and strategies used to teach early reading. The shift requires the adoption of programs emphasizing the use of phonics to read words as the most important strategy, and it eliminates programs that focus on teaching students to guess based on context when they come to an unknown word. This presents a great opportunity for change to more effective methods. A change in curriculum and instruction, and the teacher support that must go with it, are critical to enabling our students to succeed.

Tutoring is a proven success strategy

Students will need an effective core instructional system, but many will also need more student-specific support. One of the most powerful tools available to increase students’ early reading success is tutoring. A research team led by Amanda Neitzel found that several effective early literacy tutoring models evaluated in rigorous studies produced an extra year of growth

Tutoring has long been recognized as highly effective, but is often thought to be too expensive to be used widely. New models are being developed and researched as a response to the learning losses experienced during the pandemic, with extensive recovery funding authorized by Congress. 

The new models use well-specified activities to enable noncertified tutors to work with small groups of up to four students. These factors make tutoring cost-effective so that many students can be served. All of the models that have been identified as effective involve a consistent tutor providing three or more half-hour sessions each week during the school day. Each model has a system for training tutors, for coaching tutors over time to ensure that they are using the tools of the models effectively, and for data systems that provide feedback on progress.   

Fueled by the urgency of the pandemic and inspired by the potential for rapid increases in achievement, advocacy for broad-scale use of tutoring has grown and is supporting both the design and implementation of models with strong evidence of impact and scalability.  Accelerate, the National Collaborative for Accelerative Learning, is focused on supporting states and communities to build sustainable models of high-impact tutoring across the K-12 range. provides easily accessible information and support for educators on effective, scalable models for early literacy and elementary math and algebra. The National Student Support Accelerator supports a network focused on rigorous research on building effective systems at scale. A pioneer in high-dosage tutoring in math, the nonprofit SAGA Education supports districts interested in initiating a tutoring program.  

We have been complacent. As a nation, we are failing our students in their first years of school.  We have the tools. We owe children the right to read. Our students’ failure is our failure.   

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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