• Joanne Jacobs

Recruiting tutors: Volunteers or virtual?

More than two years ago, when it was clear that two weeks would not "flatten the curve," educators started talking about intensive tutoring as the way to get Zoomed-out students up to speed.



Last week, the White House announced "the launch of the National Partnership for Student Success, a three-year, public-private partnership that will recruit and place 250,000 Americans in schools as tutors, mentors, service coordinators and success coaches," reports Maureen Kelleher on Education Post. As she writes, "it's about time."

Americorps will help nonprofits recruit and train volunteers to work with students. But it's difficult to get volunteers to show up every week, month after month. I'm a volunteer tutor. We're a small, hardy bunch.


States and districts have struggled to recruit in-person tutors for the last year. Some schools are experimenting with virtual tutoring, writes Kalyn Belsha on Chalkbeat. Does it work? Unclear.


. . . some schools turning to virtual tutoring have struggled to get students to participate, particularly the students who need the most support. Communication between tutors and teachers can be spotty, and the scheduling logistics are complex. The setup has frustrated some students, especially those who only got text- or chat-based help.
Most critically, the academic impact of pandemic-era virtual tutoring is still largely unknown.

Some companies offer “on-demand” tutoring, which "matches students with a new tutor each time they log on," she writes. "The company Paper, for example, has students upload pictures of their work or type questions into a chat box. Students can type and talk to tutors over Tutor.com, and they can see and hear tutors through TutorMe."


Other services "pair students with one tutor for multiple virtual sessions each week," she writes. "It’s similar to the kind of 'high-dosage' help that’s been shown to deliver strong results in person."


"Researchers think virtual tutoring is likely to be most effective when it happens during the school day at regularly scheduled sessions," writes Belsha.


"It's difficult to get students to show up" for after-school tutoring, "particularly the students who are most disengaged with school," said Susanna Loeb, a professor of education who directs the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.


In Palm Beach County, Florida, which contracts with Paper, students at high-poverty schools are using on-demand tutoring less than students at low-poverty schools.


Akron, Ohio schools bought 5,000 virtual tutoring hours, but used only 500. Only one in 11 middle and high school students used the service.


When school starts in the fall, I have to decide whether to continue to as a virtual reading tutor, four days a week for 30 minutes, or commit to driving to the school to tutor in person. In the past, I've tutored for an hour (two students, 30 minutes each) once a week, which is a lot easier -- but less effective.


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