Last week, the San Francisco Education Fund (the Ed Fund) hosted a salon event to deepen the conversation about high-impact tutoring and further our goals with the Ed Fund’s Accelerate Learning SF initiative. We welcomed two distinguished guests and learning acceleration experts – Michael Lombardo and Susanna Loeb – to engage in a panel-style conversation about high-impact tutoring.  

Susanna Loeb is a Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She was Director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, where she was also Professor of Education and of International and Public Affairs and the founder and acting executive director of the National Student Support Accelerator, which aims to expand access to relationship-based, high-impact tutoring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Susanna’s research focuses broadly on education policy and its role in improving educational opportunities for students.  

Michael Lombardo is Chairman of the BookNook Board of Directors, having founded the company in 2016. BookNook is an award-winning, comprehensive reading intervention product  that uses adaptive technologies to support reading skill growth at school, at home, and in the community. Prior to founding BookNook, Michael served as CEO of Reading Partners, building it into one of the largest children’s literacy nonprofits in America and publishing seminal research on volunteer-based reading programs that was accepted into the What Works Clearinghouse at the U.S. Department of Education. 

On what works to accelerate learning:

If you want to take a student and really accelerate their learning, it turns out that the only thing that we know does this, is having an adult who knows the student and works with them intensively and can target the instruction towards that.  

 I think there are two aspects of high- impact tutoring. One is a really strong relationship and that tends to come from a consistent tutor with good supports and then targeting. And the targeting comes from data and good materials. I think those two things are really important. …the research has been really impressive on this.” 

Susanna Loeb, Founding Director of the National Student Support Accelerator and Professor of Stanford Graduate School of Education

On equity: 

“I would double down on the idea that tutoring prior to the pandemic was largely exacerbating inequality, right? who could afford it got it, students who couldn’t [afford it] didn’t. We’ve inverted that through this tremendous infusion of public and philanthropic capital into the system to say, actually, you’re not going to get tutoring based on whether your family can afford it; you’re going to get tutoring based on [if] you need it. To Susanna’s point about data, we actually see it’s making a difference.” 

Michael Lombardo, Co-Founder, BookNook

The conversation, moderated by our CEO Ann Walden, underscored the pivotal role of high-impact tutoring as a data-backed academic intervention. In fact, this is the only research-backed intervention that we know works in helping students make literacy gains. They reiterated that not only does high-impact tutoring enhance student outcomes, but it also paves the way for a more equitable educational experience for every San Francisco student. 

Learning acceleration has been a key initiative for the Ed Fund since 2021, with a specific focus on high-impact tutoring in literacy. To date, the Ed Fund has made a significant impact in helping students recovering from the impacts on learning from COVID-19, facilitating high-impact tutoring for over 6,000 SFUSD students. In March 2023, the Ed Fund embarked on a new chapter with the launch of “Accelerate Learning SF.” This $3M initiative aims to extend the reach of high-impact tutoring to an additional 5,000 public school students in San Francisco. The primary focus is to address the learning gaps that emerged due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Accelerate Learning SF prioritizes students from the most under-resourced schools, ensuring that they have access to top-quality, free tutoring services to help them catch up.

Key takeaways from the salon conversation: 

  • High-impact tutoring is the only learning intervention that data shows works to accelerate learning.  It is also one of the few things in education that is not in any way controversial – because it is so effective. Active student participants in the Ed Fund’s learning acceleration programs catch up at twice the rate as others.  

  • High-impact tutoring offers an equitable path to creating conditions of success for ALL students. With the tremendous infusion of government and philanthropic capital into high-impact tutoring, we have witnessed great strides in improving academic outcomes even (or particularly) for those furthest behind. A long-term commitment to fund initiatives like Accelerate Learning SF will yield great strides in educational equity and outcomes. 

  • High-impact tutoring is challenging to implement well, so having structure and implementation partners is critical. According to Michael, “What we showed in multiple randomized control trials [at BookNook] was that with the right structure, rigorous high-quality curriculum, somebody in the school making sure that the scheduling and everything went off well, that those folks can be incredibly effective.” The Ed Fund is proud to be an implementation partner in this initiative’s success and has dedicated staff who develop unique tutoring schedules for each school site, makes sure that students are engaged, and helps teachers and site leads with various tasks and resources as it relates to tutoring. 

The salon conversation and questions covered so many more topics including efficacy for literacy vs. math, technological integration, artificial intelligence, AI and equity, which states are supporting high impact tutoring with legislation and funding, who makes for the most effective tutors, and creative ways to address a tutor workforce shortage. If you would like to read full transcript, click here

As we move forward with Accelerate Learning SF, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the students of San Francisco. High-impact tutoring is not just an intervention; it is a catalyst for positive change in our educational landscape.   

To learn more about Accelerate Learning SF or to support Ed Fund’s work in reaching over 10,000 students with high-impact tutoring, click here.

Together, we can reach over 10,000 students and help their learning move beyond the pandemic.   

From left: Ann Walden, Michael Lombardo, and Susanna Loeb