ESSER Funds Spending Moving Forward: Allocations and Evidence-Based Interventions

exterior of capitol hill in washington where the esser funds are decided

Even though the deadline to use the monies received from the federal funds distributed during COVID is not until 2024, schools are being pushed to use the money sooner than later, specifically the money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) or ESSER III.

According to a recent article in EdWeek, “Politicians and U.S. Department of Education officials, including Secretary Miguel Cardona, have urged districts to spend the money as quickly as possible.” 

According to the Department of Education, all states have submitted spending plans. Now as school districts wait for the next round of ESSER funds to be released, it is important to understand where challenges arose.

ESSER funding guidelines

The majority of the funds, 80%, have no restrictions attached.

Schools can use those funds as they see fit as long as the expenditures are tied to recover efforts. The caveat is that not only do districts have to submit a plan to their state’s department of education, but those plans also have to be approved.

The 80% is not where schools are being stymied, though. As explained in the EdWeek article, the issues seem to be coming from the other 20%.

This money must be used “for evidence-based initiatives that specifically tackle lost instructional time.”

Evidence-based initiatives

One important question revolves around what is considered an “evidence-based” initiative?

This is extremely important because, without specific detailed policies that spell it out, district administrators and government officials might not agree.

The definition of evidence-based is set out in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law in December of 2015. Dr. David Chard, the dean of Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, summarized it as requiring the following:

  • Using credible measures of student performance
  • Including a large and representative sample of students
  • Ruling out other explanations for changes in student outcomes
  • Involving the peer review process to judge the quality of the research

Another resource for districts, and those trying to understand the specifics, is the IES’s What Works Clearinghouse. This searchable database includes not only the evidence-backed interventions but also provides information on the evidence itself.

High-quality tutoring is one of the four recommended interventions set out in the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) ED COVID-19 Handbook.

Evidence-based intervention: Tutoring

One example of an evidence-backed intervention is high-quality tutoring.

According to the Clearinghouse, tutoring is one of four strategies that can help students make up ground lost during the move to online during Covid-19. Three other strategies are in-school acceleration, afterschool programs and summer programs.

A 2020 paper by Andre Joshua Nickow, Philip Oreopoulos, Vincent Quan reports the findings of their “systematic review and meta-analysis” of numerous studies on the effectiveness of tutoring in preK-12 settings. The study found that “[e]ffects are stronger, on average, for teacher and paraprofessional tutoring programs than for nonprofessional and parent tutoring.”

The authors point out a couple of key mechanisms that come with tutoring. One is the obvious ability to customize the learning. The other is the ability to teach “at the right level.”

Clearly, 1:1 or even small group tutoring makes it easier to teach to the individual learning style or styles of the student(s) receiving the intervention.

No matter how well planned a lesson is, teachers have a limited amount of time to present a lesson to all students in a classroom.

And common knowledge allows that there will be a substantial variety of learning styles in any K-12 classroom. Tutoring allows for the instruction to be customized to meet a student(s) where they are.

The report points out numerous other benefits of high-quality tutoring, including:

  • Engagement and immediate feedback
  • Ability to focus and stay on task
  • “Human connection”

Similarly, the Learning Policy Institute outlines key characteristics that an effective tutoring plan should employ “certified classroom teachers when available (whether currently teaching or not), or paraprofessional staff, such as existing paraprofessionals, teacher candidates enrolled in preparation programs, or well-trained tutors who earn a stipend, such as AmeriCorps members. “

One interesting note is that many studies recommend building tutoring into the regular school day. However, for teachers who are already stretched thin, providing tutoring in addition to regular teaching duties is an added burden.

This also does not take into consideration the necessity of finding time for the students to attend tutoring during the school day.

Another concern is that when students are pulled out of the classroom for tutoring sessions, they are missing other important instructional time and may feel singled out from their peers.

How Skooli can help

With this evidence in mind, Skooli is proud to provide tutoring by professional educators. Our extensive network of educators hold teaching licenses and/or Master’s or PhDs.

For on demand 1:1 online tutoring sessions available 24/7, Skooli charges one overall per-student rate, granting each student unlimited access for an entire year (365 days). This model makes it easy for districts to provide access to all students at an affordable rate.

However, even with these previous guidelines, the guidance is not completely clear. While state education departments are approving districts’ plans, the federal Department of Education will be conducting audits.

As Julia Martin, the legislative director for the law firm Brustein & Manasevit, told EdWeek, “A state is going to be approving or denying expenditures basically using [Education Department] guidance and their best guess as to whether something meets that benchmark….”

As concern mounts that districts may be spending ESSER funds on programs that they will not be able to sustain once the funding ends, those improvements that have worked to improve student learning and gain lost ground will be indispensable.

Learn more about how Skooli can help your district.

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