This month, the Los Angeles Unified School District responded to students’ need to engage in distance learning by investing $100 million in devices, software and internet connectivity. This was an important step in providing an equitable education, but it wasn’t enough. Months of distance learning showed that what really matters is not the internet connection but the human connection.
It made sense, then, that another LAUSD move to limit learning loss during the pandemic was approving an agreement with the teachers’ union to provide one-on-one tutoring at its campuses. The 50-minute sessions are being held mainly outdoors and outside normal school hours, and teachers are compensated at their hourly rate. Teachers and students need to show a negative coronavirus test before meeting in person.
Why did LAUSD make this extraordinary financial and logistical commitment to connecting its teachers with one student at a time? Because data shows that tutoring helps students learn better. When it comes to combating students’ learning loss due to COVID-19, Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, had this to say to the Los Angeles Times: “Far and away, the most effective tool we have to begin fixing this is tutoring. Nothing else can be put in place as quickly with as high a likelihood of working.”
At a time when equity gaps are in danger of growing, tutoring can bridge the gap, especially those who are most liable to lose ground in a distance-learning environment. A Harvard study found that one-on-one tutoring was highly effective in improving the achievement of low-performing students. Tutors do more than drill facts and figures; they offer intelligent academic conversations and serve as cheerleaders who help students overcome challenges, which many students might not get from their families and peers.
Certainly the return to in-person learning after months away from the classroom is an enormous challenge. Time-starved teachers are scrambling to determine where their students are academically. At the same time, many parents have chosen not to send their kids back to classrooms, so teachers are teaching classes both online and in-person. Between enforcing safety procedures for in-person students and working to make sure that distance-learning students don’t get left behind, a teacher with 25 students in her class just doesn’t have enough hours in the day to give every student her undivided attention for even a few minutes.
Families all over the city (and the country) are seeking on-demand, one-on-one academic help for their children. COVID-19 has accelerated widespread adoption of online tutoring. During 2020, my company, TutorMe, saw our online tutoring hours increase 339% year-over-year. Even as some students are returning to in-person learning, we’re still seeing greater interest from parents in supplementing their kids’ education. We’re proud that our platform, created by undergrads at the University of Southern California, has helped Los Angeles parents find tutors who have direct experience in the areas where they need immediate support. But there are still many students who aren’t getting the personalized help they need.
As everyone with a stake in education continues to reckon with the fallout from the COVID-19 closures, the best thing schools can do for their students is to invest their American Rescue Act funds in a model that has been working for centuries: one qualified tutor teaching one student specific topics and skills. With its laser focus on each student’s individual needs, tutoring is a tool that schools should be using to help students now, while they still have a chance to make up the learning they’ve lost.
Even when the pandemic is fully over, connecting one-on-one with a tutor either online or in person will offer students of all achievement levels and socioeconomic statuses the opportunity they deserve to not only learn specific skills and material, but to build a durable learning relationship with another human being.
Myles Hunter is the CEO and co-founder of TutorMe, which is headquartered in Los Angeles.