FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va.—The White House on Tuesday announced a new program to add 250,000 tutors and mentors within the next three years to help K-12 public school students recover from their learning loss during the pandemic.
The national program, a partnership between the Department of Education, AmeriCorps, and Everyone Graduates Center, will support summer learning, afterschool, and tutoring programs. AmeriCorps is an independent government agency focusing on national service initiatives. Everyone Graduates Center is a think tank affiliated with Johns Hopkins University.
To fund such resources, the Biden administration called on schools to use the $122 billion allocated under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.
“Now—more than ever—students need to feel supported, seen, heard, and understood by adults in their schools and communities,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement.
The Institute for Education Services, the Department of Education’s research arm, will track schools’ progress with such programs monthly, according to the White House Fact Sheet.
The new initiative is welcomed by researchers and parents, with a caveat of challenges.
Tutoring Can Make a Difference When Done Right
“I think tutoring is a really good intervention. A lot of good research shows that can make a difference for a student when done right,” Phyllis W. Jordan, associate director with FutureEd, an independent think-tank affiliated with Georgetown University, told The Epoch Times.
“And done right means doing it three times a week with the same tutor, often during the school day versus an add-on at the end of the day,” said Jordan, adding that the student group should not be more than three or four students if the ideal one-on-one situation wasn’t available. “So doing the right steps can make a difference in a student’s academic life, and using AmeriCorps workers is a good strategy.”
According to Jordan, another challenge is what schools can do after ARP ESSER funding ends. Although the Department of Education has said that the deadline could be extended by another 18 months, that is contingent on school districts committing to a contract by the original deadline of September 2024.
She said that the new program would allow schools to use ARP ESSER funding for tutoring until June 2025, another pathway to extension.
Shawnna Yashar, an intellectual property attorney, and a board member and secretary of the Fairfax County Parents Association, a parent advocacy group based in northern Virginia, welcomed the new Biden administration initiative.
She said hiring 250,000 new tutors and mentors would be a challenge. She had discussed with Fairfax County School Board representatives regarding finding in-person tutors and was told that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) couldn’t find any.
Instead, FCPS, the district where her three children, a rising fourth-grader, eighth-grader, and 12th-grader study, signed a contract with tutor.com in March, using its ARP ESSER funding.
For a per-student fee of $15 per year, tutor.com would provide unlimited online tutoring to FCPS students from March 1, 2022, to June 30, 2025. For this large school district with 188,000 students, the annual fee amounts to $2.82 million.
Yashar isn’t happy with this spending. Students K–5 don’t have an option for math tutoring, according to the tutor.com screenshots she shared. And through tutor.com, tutoring is either done through online chatting or voice chatting, which would require a much longer wait time.
Students are instructed to upload examples of problems they struggle with. And if the uploaded material contains personal information, the tutor has to end the session immediately.
She said she understood the privacy concern, but an adult would have to accompany an elementary student to use the service. “A parent has to sit with the child to do that [removing personal information and uploading the material], and at that point, the parent might as well be the one tutoring the child,” she told The Epoch Times.
FCPS and Tutor.com haven’t responded to The Epoch Times’ inquiry before press time.
To Yashar, tutor.com may be helpful for high school students, but it’s not practical for elementary or even middle school students. “In-person, high dosage tutoring is the only way to effectively address learning loss. It’s either that or have students repeat grades,” she added.