I will admit that I don’t click open every Youth Today article that pops up on my screen. But this one caught my eye: How a free, 24/7 tutoring model is disrupting learning loss for low-income kids. Research shows that high-impact tutoring – defined as three sessions a week for multiple weeks if not a full semester – is very effective. But a free, 24/7 opt in model?
Mathematica did pre-post math assessments of 9th and 10th graders who engaged in just such a model. (Math, particularly algebra and geometry, is the most commonly requested subject.) They found that, after nine sessions, students scored an average of nine percentile points higher than the control group. Black students saw the greatest gains.
So how does this model work? UPchieve is an ed-tech nonprofit that relies on 20,000 trained, volunteer tutors from around the world to provide on-demand support within minutes to any U.S. middle or high school student attending a Title 1 school or living in a low-income neighborhood.
They are reaching their target demographic: two-thirds of the young people served are first-generation college-bound students. 81% are students of color. More than half are not enrolled in any other academic or college access program.
2/3 of the young people served are first-generation college-bound students. 81% are students of color. More than half are not enrolled in any other academic or college access program.
They are not hitting the high-impact mark however. Gains were observed after 9 sessions. But only 12% of the students logged in for 10 or more sessions (about 6 hours).
There is a legitimate concern that these kind of opt-in models – which are cheaper to run and easier to scale – could increase rather than decrease disparities between struggling students and their more engaged peers.
The The National Student Support Accelerator, one of the technical partners of The National Partnership for Student Success, cites a Brown University study showing that only 19% of students accessed an available platform similar to UPchieve, with rates for struggling students who received a D or an F in the prior semester only half as likely to access the platform than those who passed all their classes (12 % v 23%).
They found, however, that sending personalized communications to both students and parents increased initial platform access by 46%. And it led to a 122% increase in uptake among struggling students. With this communications intervention, the uptake rate among struggling students matched that of their more successful peers (23%).
For me, this data suggests that the glass is more than half-full. Program models like those being supported by Outschool.org , the nonprofit arm of Outschool, an online marketplace with over 140,000 live virtual classes are bringing families in under-resourced communities heavy-duty supports.
Outschool.org has a direct-to-family program, that empowers families to navigate the learning ecosystem by providing access to an easy-to-navigate platform with information about enrichment courses – virtual and in-person local classes – and small grants to help them access these courses. In addition, in 2021, they launched a second program model focused on providing supports to mission-aligned local organizations that already have strong relationships with marginalized families. They are now adding high-impact tutoring to their online options, requiring a minimum of 90 minute sessions each week for 25 weeks with the same tutor.
Through the alignment of their tutoring and enrichment programs, my guess is that Outschool.org will see even higher rates of uptake and persistence in their tutoring program because they are building relationships with students and their families based not just on academic needs (learning loss), but on curiosity and passions (learning interests).