Private tutoring companies have seen demand for their services soar through the summer as parents fear their kids will get left behind with online learning
Tutoring companies like eTutorWorld, TutorMe, and Tutor.com have seen increases in purchases for their online tutoring services during the pandemic. Demand is sparked by the need to supplement hastily put together online classes and students fearing they'll get behind in their education as classes remain remote in the fall. Summer is usually a quiet time for tutoring companies, but the number of new customers at eTutorWorld increased by 43% from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter. Teachers and experts warn that the rise in tutoring services will create a learning gap between wealthy and low-income families. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Bea Lennon said school had already been challenging for her 17-year-old daughter when the pandemic hit. She's dyslexic, and learning Algebra remotely among a class of 30 students proved to be impossible. "Math is really hard for her. Doing it online was the worst," said Lennon, who lives in Portsmouth, Virginia. So she hired a tutor from eTutorWorld to help her daughter with Algebra over the summer. So far, Lennon has paid $409 for 20 one-hour sessions. "It's a lot of money, but I don't have a choice. It seems to be helping her," she said. As parents grow concerned about the quality of a hastily assembled online education, many of those like Lennon who can afford it are hiring online tutors from private companies to supplement their kids' school learning. COVID-19 fuels a growing market According to a June report by market insights and analysis company Research and Markets, analysts predict that the US private tutoring market will grow by $7.37 billion by 2023. A July report by marketing research publisher Global Industry Analysts, Inc. examining the market impact of COVID-19 also indicated that the global market for private tutoring, currently estimated at $173.4 billion, is projected to reach $279.3 billion by 2027. TutorMe, an online tutoring platform for high school and college students that provides 10,000 tutors available on demand in over 300 subjects, has seen a 300% increase in users since mid-March, the company reported. "We're seeing demand from parents across the board to get that one-on-one support," said Myles Hunter, TutorMe's CEO and cofounder. He added that the company is continually onboarding tutors to meet that demand. Tutor.com, which partners with institutions like school districts, universities, and libraries to offer tutoring services, similarly conducted over 457,000 tutoring sessions from March through June — a 40% increase over the same period in 2019, according to Sandi White, Tutor.com's vice president and general manager. "Not every parent is an expert in Algebra," White said . "We were one of those resources they felt they could turn to." During a time of transition and disruption, she added that tutors built student confidence. "They feel there's someone to help them and encourage them," she said. The momentum continues off season Business in the summer, which is often a quieter time for tutoring companies, continues to be brisk. Megan Stubbendeck, managing director at ArborBridge, which provides tutoring to roughly 1,500 students a year, said with camps and summer jobs cancelled, parents "need to fill students' time and they're doing that with private tutoring online." She said that tutors are constantly looking for ways to keep their students engaged by finding an interest in their personal lives and then bringing that into the tutoring session. For example, if a student is interested in a video game, the tutor could assign an essay exercise to research the game's production, history, and links to other games to help the student practice academic research or writing skills. They may also use math puzzles, spelling games, and interactive virtual science experiments that resemble the experience of an interactive science museum to make learning fun. Stubbendeck pointed to a recent study indicating that the typical summer learning loss will be more pronounced as a result of the migration to online learning. Teachers, she said "are trying hard," but she argues that it's difficult to retrofit an in-person learning environment "into something it wasn't built to do." Mukul Agrawal, CEO and cofounder of eTutorWorld, agrees. Teachers, he said, are not trained in remote learning, which he argues isn't designed to work well in a large classroom setting. "So we are filling that gap," he said. The number of new customers at eTutorWorld increased by 43% from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter. He believes summer tutoring requests are driven in part by student and parent concerns about falling behind and not knowing when their schools will resume in-person interactions. Tutoring companies anticipate they'll remain busy, as major districts, including those in Los Angeles and San Diego, have recently announced plans to continue remote learning into the fall. Bracing for the continued demand, some tutoring companies are planning to bring on more tutors; White expects to increase Tutor.com's staff from 3,400 to 4,000 tutors by the fall. Tutoring brings benefits but also promotes inequality Jackie Meier, who teaches math to seventh graders at Power Middle School in Farmington Hills, Michigan, said it's been challenging teaching math online. She believes that tutors can provide valuable personalized instruction during a time when students lack in-person contact with their teachers. Meeting one on one online with the 125 students she teaches "isn't realistic," she said. At the same time, the situation has amplified a long-festering issue of inequality. "Some families can afford to provide their kids extra support and some cannot, and so the achievement gap continues to increase," she said. Tutoring services aren't cheap. The fees for eTutorWorld range from $20 to $25 an hour, and Agrawal said the most common purchase is 10 hours of tutoring. Meanwhile, TutorMe tutors charge $26 an hour, while ArborBridge charges $145 to $160 an hour — but Stubbendeck said that pro bono programs are available to families that need it and that the company has doubled its number of these programs during COVID-19. A July 16 study released through the Annenberg Institute at Brown University using high-frequency internet search data to determine use of online resources once schools closed found more search intensity in wealthier areas with better internet access. Though these were primarily free resources — and the study didn't explore use of paid services — Andrew Bacher-Hicks, one of the authors, said he believes the results would be similar for tutoring. Ethan Hutt, an assistant professor with the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the current situation will exacerbate existing inequalities. "Wealthy families will have access to enrichment. We'll for sure see growing achievement gaps," he said. A June report by McKinsey & Company found that learning loss amidst COVID-19 will likely be the greatest among low-income Black and Hispanic students. One nonprofit hopes to fill the learning gap with free service To address this problem, Aly Murray founded UPchieve in 2018, which provides free tutoring in math and science to low-income high school students. Her nonprofit has 2,000 volunteers — from high school students to retirees — providing on-demand online tutoring. The number of students requesting tutor sessions jumped from 450 at the end of February to 900 at the end of June, and students are asking for longer sessions, she said. She's hoping to work with thousands more students in the fall but said she can only handle so many. She said that she hopes that as the for-profit companies continue to see a surge in business that they provide more free services to low-income students. Otherwise, with limited options for free tutoring, she said, the opportunity gap "is about to get a lot worse." SEE ALSO: An LA-based startup is using fever-tracking tech to keep daycares open for essential workers, posing as a model for other businesses READ MORE: How to become a highly successful online tutor and make 6 figures as virtual learning becomes the norm Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How waste is dealt with on the world's largest cruise ship
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'Pod'-style learning benefits affluent kids and exacerbates education inequality — but it does address 3 key issues. Here's how to solve those problems equitably.
Jessica Calarco is an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington and the author of...Jessica Calarco is an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington and the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School and A Field Guide to Grad School: Navigating the Hidden Curriculum. The idea of pod-style learning for kids has gained more stream recently, with some parents pulling children out of school and hiring tutors or experienced teachers. Many have rightfully critiqued pods for perpetuating systemic inequities by further segregating public education and reducing the available resources for marginalized children. To address the valid concerns that podding parents may have, Calarco says parents should instead push for more funding to create smaller class sizes in public schools. For childcare, they should consider childcare co-ps and turn to social pods for socialization. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. With the pandemic still raging, many schools across the country are opting not to reopen full-time. Some are switching to full-time online instruction, and others are opting for hybrid models where students attend school a few days a week and spend the rest learning at home. Those plans are creating problems for employed parents, who once again have to figure out how to do their work while their kids are learning from home. Reflecting back on their less-than-optimal experiences with online learning last spring, many of those working parents, and stay-at-home parents, too, are also concerned about whether their kids will get enough academic support and social interaction if they're not physically going to school. Faced with those challenges, some parents — especially affluent, white parents — have proposed using a "pod"-style model to support kids' learning at home. And these pods are taking a number of different forms. Some pod parents pull kids out of school entirely, while others use pods to complement online school. Meanwhile, some pod parents share the work of teaching among themselves, while others hire a babysitter, a paid tutor, or even a highly-trained, experienced teacher to teach all the kids in the pod. And, complicating things even further, some pods have meet-ups in-person, while others exist solely online. As talk of these new learning pods has flooded social media, some scholars and educators have pushed back. They argue that learning pods — especially if they involve paid teachers or pulling kids out of public school — will further segregate public education and reduce resources for low-income students and students of color, who will disproportionately be left out of learning pods. These critiques are important, but they have stopped short of offering parents a more equitable alternative to private learning pods. To find that more equitable alternative, we have to take a step back and look for the problem that parents are trying to solve. From that perspective, it's easy to see that learning pods, and especially learning pods with a paid private teacher or tutor, are an appealing solution because they solve three key problems that result when school goes online: A lack of hands-on instructional support (which makes it hard for kids to learn effectively), A lack of childcare during the workday (which makes it hard for parents to get their work done), And a lack of social interaction among kids (which puts kids' mental health at risk). If parents want to avoid exacerbating inequalities in schooling, they have to tackle these problems separately, with separate solutions. Pods with private teachers or tutors aren't the only way to get kids the hands-on instruction they need. Instead, small class sizes offer an effective and more equitable solution. In practice, this would mean hiring enough teachers so that each kid can have a small class (<10) taught by a single teacher, in-person (if it's safe to do so) or online. Those classes would be small enough to promote more effective online instruction, reducing the need for parental involvement at home. And those classes would also be small enough to reduce the spread of the virus in schools that reopen this year. But what would all those teachers cost? Certainly, I'm not an economist, but I can do some back-of-the-envelope calculations to try to figure it out. In 2020, US public schools are projected to have 3.2 million teachers teaching 50.8 million students. To shift that teacher-student ratio down to 1:10, public schools will need an additional 2.6 million teachers for the 2020/2021 school year. As of 2017/2018, the average base salary for a full-time teacher in a public elementary or secondary school was roughly $58,000 a year. Starting teachers make less (closer to $44,000 a year). But to be fully staffed at 2.6 million, schools will have to think beyond newly minted college grads. They'll also have to recruit former teachers who've retired or left the profession. And they may consider recruiting recent graduates of master's degree and doctoral degree programs, as well. Those new recruits, in turn, will almost certainly expect higher salaries than what a first-year public school teacher would normally make. The average teacher with a master's degree, for example, earns about $63,000, while the average teacher with a doctorate earns $69,500. Those new hires will probably also expect good benefits, especially if they're being asked to teach in-person during a pandemic. For public schools, in turn, the additional costs of employee benefits work out to be roughly 37% of what they spend on salaries (based on data for 2015/2016). Given all those numbers, it seems reasonable to estimate that schools will have to pay each newly hired teacher roughly $58,000 a year, plus benefits. That works out to be about $150.8 billion in salary, and another $55.8 billion in employment benefits. And if schools don't want to lose currently employed teachers (who might get snatched up by parents forming private pods), they'll probably have to bump up the salaries of all those currently making less than what new teachers would make. That's another, roughly, $92.8 billion in salaries. Or about $299.4 billion in total. And $299.4 billion may seem like a lot of money, but, unlike many short-term spending plans, that money has the potential to make public schools more equitable for students and for teachers long-term. Research consistently shows that small classes improve student learning and achievement. And yet, because schools are funded primarily through local property taxes, and because local communities are so segregated by race and social class, schools serving low-income students and students of color can rarely afford the small classes all students deserve. Research also suggests that fair compensation could increase teacher retention and improve student achievement in school. Teachers in many areas across the country have long been dangerously underpaid. Those low salaries lead many teachers to leave the profession within their first few years. As a result, many schools — particularly schools in low-income communities and communities of color — rely heavily on less experienced teachers who tend to be less effective in helping students learn. Of course, small classes are only possible if the federal government foots the bill and if federal legislators commit to funding those teachers long-term. Local and state taxes currently fund more than 90% of public education in the US. In most communities, those budgets were already stretched pre-pandemic, and COVID-19 has made it impossible for many states and local communities to make ends meet. So there's no extra money for schools. Ultimately, then, I would urge parents who are considering forming private learning pods to redirect those efforts toward lobbying public officials for more public school funding, instead. We know from prior research that when parents — especially affluent, white parents — work collectively to pressure decision-makers, their voices are usually heard. Parents may also consider pressuring state and local leaders to delay the start of this school year. That would leave time for federal funding to come through Congress. And it would leave time for districts to hire and train all the new teachers they'll need to equitably staff small classes in public schools. Of course, if those small classes are taught online, they still won't solve the childcare problem for parents who work full-time. As a working mother of a six-year-old and a three-year-old, I understand how hard it can be for parents and especially for mothers to work while kids are stuck at home. If the goal is equity, however, then I think childcare co-ops are a better solution than private learning pods. So what would that look like? Parents could keep their kids enrolled in public online or hybrid schooling. Parents could then join groups of two to five families and trade off watching all the kids on the days they're learning from home. Of course, these childcare co-ops will not be fully equitable or inclusive. Some families, for example, will have to do the childcare work themselves, while others may be able to pay a babysitter to cover their share. In an ideal world, privileged families could partner with less privileged families to split the time or the costs. But because schools and communities in the US are so segregated by race and by social class, that partnering model simply doesn't scale. Even with those limitations, however, childcare co-ops will still be more equitable than private learning pods. They'll keep kids enrolled in public school, and they'll keep parents from poaching the teachers that public schools desperately need. Meanwhile, if stay-at-home parents are willing to join and help, that can further reduce the need for paid teachers or tutors and make things more equitable, as well. Parents of older kids, meanwhile, may not need childcare, but they may still see learning pods as a way to get their kids the social interaction they need. For that problem, however, I'd argue that purely social pods are a more effective and more equitable solution for supporting kids' mental health. These social pods could be organized by parents or by kids themselves, and they could meet in-person or virtually outside of the regular school day. Certainly, and because families' social networks are so stratified by race and social class, these social pods won't all be equitable or inclusive. But if they stay purely social, then at least they won't give privileged kids a leg-up with learning in school. Meanwhile, and if these pods remain purely social, then they have a better chance of supporting kids' mental health rather than harming it, instead. We know that when parents stress about academics it makes kids feel stressed out, too. So if parents really care about their kids' well-being (and not just their test scores and college admissions), then the goal, academically, should just be "good enough." That means limiting the time kids spend on learning and the pressure kids face to achieve (e.g., by removing standardized testing requirements). And it means giving kids more time to just have fun with their friends. Essentially, solving the pod problem means solving the three problems parents are using pods to solve — a lack of instructional support for at-home learning, a lack of childcare for working parents, and a lack of social interaction for kids stuck at home. Thankfully, private learning pods aren't the only solutions to those problems, though it'll take money (lots of it), time (which might mean delaying the school year), and lots of pressure, especially from privileged parents diverting their energy away from coordinating learning pods and toward calling their congressional representatives, instead. Those calls, in turn, should demand not only the funding and time schools desperately need in the short term but also the regulations needed to stop the virus in its tracks. If we shut everything down and keep everyone home for a month, we might actually get to a point, public health-wise, where it's safe to reopen schools. And that, especially with small classes and fairly paid teachers, would be the most equitable solution of all. Jessica Calarco is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington and the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School (Oxford 2018) and A Field Guide to Grad School: Navigating the Hidden Curriculum (Princeton 2020). SEE ALSO: Parents are spending $125,000 a year on at-home education pods to protect kids from coronavirus risks at school Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence