Online tutors follow students back to class. But the magnitude of tutoring needs and the difficulty in finding tutors have pushed even in-person tutoring services to go remote.

In America, for-profit companies and nonprofit groups are selling virtual tutoring services to school districts. Some programs use live video to try to replicate in-person tutoring as closely as possible. Others skip the human tutor and use artificial intelligence.

And some are essentially instant messaging services, with students and tutors randomly paired for brief typed chats, often organized around home-work assignments.

Spending on virtual tutoring is explicitly allowed under federal stimulus guidelines, and the Education Department said remote tutoring can be a ''great option for many students, as long as the tutoring addresses individual students needs and produces strong educational outcomes.''

But the idea of online tutoring as a fix ''confounds me,'' said Laura Vaughan, a parent in Montgomery County, Md., auburn of Washington that had some of the longest school closures in America. 

Her 13-year-old had a frustrating experience with both remote schooling and virtual tutoring. ''Just watching my son trying to pay attention to virtual anything is hard,'' she said.

The online tutoring field is fairly new, and many companies said they either did not have data proving their program's effectiveness or were still collecting it. Several pointed to small studies from Britain and Italy showing promising results.

But critics say that online tutoring rarely matches upto in-person tutoring and that only a few such services replicate strategies that research has shown to be most effective : a paid, trained tutor who has a consistent personal relationship with a student; sessions during the school day, so that students do not skip lessons; and at least three sessions per week.

''A key piece of tutoring is that social relationship with a caring adult,'' said Amanda Neitzel, an assistant research scientist at the John Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education in Baltimore. ''How can you build that in an online format?''

Her worry, she added, was that the federal tutoring push would amount to ''an expensive disaster.''

Virtual tutoring is a big business opportunity for the education technology sector. Investment in ed tech surged to $3.2 billion in just the first half of 2021 from $1.7 billion in all of 2019, according to market research from Reach Capital, a venture capital firm specializing in education.

NOW some online tutoring start-ups are drawing half their new businesses from federal funds, according to James Kim, a partner at reach. Districts typically pay $1 to $100 per student who will use tutoring services over the course of a year.

Ed-tech investors and entrepreneurs say the academic and social failures of remote schools have little to do with the services these businesses are offering.

They emphasize that their platforms are supposed to supplement in-person education, not supplant it, and that being able to get a tutor anytime, from anywhere has benefits.

''Online tutoring is a one-to-one communication,'' said Myles Hunter, chief executive of TutorMe, which pairs students with tutors - mostly recent college graduates - ver audio, video or instant messaging.

Some cities and states - like Chicago, New Mexico and Arkansas - are starting in-person tutor corps. But hiring has been difficult because of labor shortages, a major reason district leaders said they were turning to online tutoring.

Many administrators say they cannot fill in-person tutoring jobs that pay $15 to $22 per hour, sometimes without benefits.

Online tutoring jobs attract many more and better-educated applicants, hiring managers said. But tutoring businesses vary in quality and have experienced significant growing pains.

The Publishing continues in to the future. The World Students Society thanks author Dana Goldstein.


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