Editorial: Pilot project could show value of tutoring students

By The Herald Editorial Board

Parents need look only at their own children to understand that kids learn at different rates, using a range of learning styles and needing different levels of support, encouragement and coaching.

Parents are the first line of that support and can be great tutors for their children, but it can still be difficult for students to find time outside of the classroom to get that one-on-one assistance to answer questions, understand concepts and assignments, study for tests and complete homework.

A proposal in the Legislature would launch a three-year pilot program to study the effectiveness of learning labs, tutoring centers for students in the sixth through eighth grades, which could provide regular after-school assistance at middle schools and junior high schools.

The legislation is being pursued by Jan Link, a former teacher and principal who now leads Learning Link, a Kirkland-based nonprofit tutoring center; and Larry Wewel, secretary of Learning Link’s board of directors. Link and Wewel first sought the pilot program in 2016 and have returned with an adjusted proposal that reduces the scope of the pilot project but, they said, will still prove the effectiveness of regular tutoring in preparing students for high school.

“It’s the missing link” among the investments being made throughout K-12 education, Wewel said during a recent meeting with The Herald Editorial Board.

The pilot project would set up learning labs at up to 10 schools throughout the state. Last year’s legislation sought tutoring centers in each of Snohomish County’s 33 middle schools. Snohomish County schools should still see learning labs in three or four schools under the current legislation, with three-school clusters set up at districts elsewhere in the state.

The learning labs, which would be open after school until 6 p.m., would typically use a school’s library or computer lab, where students would have access to the internet. Led by a paid director, the labs would depend on volunteers — high school and college students, parents and seniors — to provide tutoring and other assistance. The labs also will serve as a resource for parents seeking assistance to help their children at home.

Scaled back from about $1.5 million annually sought last year, the pilot project now seeks $600,000 each year, starting with the 2017-18 school year, in grants to be administered by the Department of Commerce. At the end of the third year, a report to the governor will review the pilot project with a recommendation on whether to continue, discontinue or expand the learning labs to other schools across the state.

Legislation in each chamber, House Bill 1412 and Senate Bill 5291, has bipartisan support from several lawmakers. Each bill is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday in Olympia.

Link has confidence that the pilot program will be seen as a success. She’s seen the effectiveness of tutoring through her nonprofit. A group of 48 Edmonds middle school students that Learning Link worked with during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, have since completed high school. Of the students Learning Link tutored, all 48 earned high school diplomas, 18 are enrolled at either the University of Washington or at UW-Bothell, four are at other regional universities, 19 are studying at community colleges; and four plan to begin college studies soon, Link said.

With the Legislature tasked this session with resolving a court mandate to amply fund K-12 education, it also must consider how the investments it makes will be spent and what additional programs beyond the classroom can help achieve the outcomes sought in preparing students for college and careers.

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