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Online Edge

Odvard Egil Dyrli on Web-based Tutoring

Online help can offer specific and effective tutoring solutions

Tutoring used to be thought of as a private issue. While many parents nationwide choose to supply tutors for their children, the issue hasn't appeared on schools' radar screens. Until now.

Because of No Child Left Behind, any school that receives Title I funds and doesn't make adequate yearly progress for three years in a row is forced to offer students tutoring in math and reading. For instance, in Connecticut nearly one in four of the state's 180 public high schools did not reach the academic progress required by No Child Left Behind this year. This includes all the high schools in Hartford, New Britain and Waterbury. And this is in a state that spends nearly $3,000 per student more than the national average of $7,376.

NCLB requirements are making tutoring choices a concern for many school districts.

These supplemental educational services can be given before school, after school, or on the weekends, and districts must supply parents with lists of state-approved SES providers at least annually. Even in districts that do not qualify for SES assistance, parents with children who struggle academically typically ask schools for tutoring help and advice. With countless non-profit and for-profit tutoring options, implementing local programs can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the Web offers easy and effective solutions.

As a first step, some schools use district Web sites to help families select local tutors. For example, South Dakota's Sioux Falls District maintains a list of employees who serve as paid tutors--$20 to $50 per hour is common--and the Laredo (Texas) Independent School District uses its Web site to promote a free tutoring program. Similarly, Chicago area schools gain benefits from the Tutor/Mentor Connection site that recruits and prepares adults to work with disadvantaged students in urban environments.

Tutoring Online

However, finding local individuals with in-depth expertise in specific content areas is often difficult, finding places to meet may present problems, and tutors may not be available when they are most needed. Districts are therefore looking to new tutoring services that are completely online, which removes such barriers. A partnership of and maintains a directory of individuals who tutor over the Internet, and growing numbers of companies specialize in Web-delivered services.

For example, Smarthinking--a leading provider of online tutoring programs for middle school, high school and college students--gives learners continuous e-mail access to instructors, personalized feedback on essays and scheduled one-to-one instruction using on-screen white boards. Smarthinking has tutored more than 78,000 students in more than 330,000 online sessions.

Other companies that offer online tutoring services include BrainFuse, eLuminate and eSylvan. Burck Smith, CEO of Smarthinking, says, "Each provider has a different program, different technology, different target students, different training for tutors and different price points," so it pays to shop around.

Spreading the Word

However, the results in many districts have been disappointing. For example, in Lancaster, Penn., where tutoring was available through the district, two nearby systems, two tutoring services, and three for-profit companies, 13 out of 800 qualifying students from city schools signed up initially. Some parents may not be motivated to seek such help, have poor English skills, lack education to navigate the system, or be unaware that such services exist. Your staff needs to explore online tutoring alternatives and make the best options accessible through your Web site.

Odvard Egil Dyrli,, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the Univ. of Connecticut.