Online tutoring: 5 ways it will help more students

In a world where the cost of education goes up every year, our online tutoring partner gives us yet one more way to reduce overall operating costs while expanding educational opportunities.
Michael Fournier
Michael Fournier
Michael Fournier is superintendent of the Bedford School District in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Tutoring has long been the gold standard of academic support but can sometimes be as expensive as it is critical. As we all learned during the COVID period, “parent tutors” can’t always fill in as instructors when students are learning complex topics.

And the older the child, the more difficult the concepts become. Expecting parents to remember everything they were taught in middle and high school—much of which they may not have studied since high school—is a significant ask.

I can attest to this myself. I vividly remember the days of sitting at my dining room table with a frustrated 10-year-old because I didn’t know how to do lattice multiplication, and that’s what he had to do. While parents are pretty good with homework in grades one through three, fourth grade and beyond can present complexities that require an expert outside the household.

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It gets even more advanced with subjects like algebra, geometry, calculus and biology. Families want to help their kids and don’t know how to do it. The good news is that advancements in technology offer new opportunities to leverage scalable online tutoring. When the New Hampshire Department of Education rolled out to all schools, we were thrilled to get on board.

Here are five reasons why we made the move:

1. COVID learning loss is real. During the COVID lockdowns, parents were expected to transform into teachers, tutors and homework helpers overnight. When students returned to the classroom, some were grappling with learning loss and struggling to catch up.

By 2021, the average K12 American student was five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, according to McKinsey & Co. We knew we needed to do something to help our students get back on track with their learning.

2. Online tutoring levels the playing field. Bedford Public Schools serves some families who can afford to pay $70 or $75 an hour to hire private tutors for their kids. But not all families have the resources to help bridge educational gaps for their kids.

Thanks to our new tutoring platform, everyone can benefit from tutoring at no cost to their families. The equitable availability of support has helped level the playing field.

3. Online tutoring guides students through the thinking process. Instead of just providing answers, experts on the platform ask questions to guide students through the problem-solving process. Educators also receive early intervention alerts about students struggling with content mastery or prerequisite knowledge so that schools can provide just-in-time support.

If a student is working on an algebra problem and struggling with multiplication facts, an alert about this learning gap is helpful and enables teachers to feed that information back to the teachers. I find that to be a powerful tool to help students advance in their learning.

4. If you build it, they will come. As a starting point, we initially rolled out our new online tutoring platform to our leadership team. We wanted that team to understand the platform’s purpose and value first.

Next, we rolled it out to all of the parents, many of whom got their first look via a dedicated website where families can get their tutoring-related questions answered. Today, the platform is integrated with Google Classroom, so our students can get instant access to it with a single sign-on.

5. Tutors’ expertise and instructional approach matter. I was instantly impressed with the rigor of the vetting process our tutor partner used. I also appreciated the tutors’ use of Socratic questioning and the ongoing quality control they engage in. I felt very confident that I would let my own kids interact with the tutors based on the encouraging learner experience.

Getting everyone on board

Participation in our new online tutoring option has been impressive so far. Our students have had more than 1,000 sessions in the last six months—from personalized tutoring to drop-off review services and use of self-paced test prep from The Princeton Review and other resources. We are excited about what the future holds.

In a world where the cost of education goes up every year, and where finding and keeping good teachers can be challenging and expensive, our online tutoring partner gives us yet one more way to reduce overall operating costs while expanding educational opportunities.

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