Digital tutoring in K-12 systems has rapidly emerged as a popular education option. Digital instruction includes the use of digital technology such as computers. Curricular formats range from highly structured and dependent on software to more fluid and dependent on the discretion of a live tutor.The increase in digital tutoring systems has created research demand to understand whether and how these practices are linked to student achievement outcomes.
Burch, Good, and Heinrich examined the digital providers’ role in out-of-school time (OST) tutoring. They completed a mixed-method longitudinal study of federally funded OST tutoring companies in five urban sites over four years and found that these companies had a reach as high as 88% of students eligible for OST tutoring in one district. The study sample included students eligible for OST tutoring under No Child Left Behind. They examined student attendance patterns and the relationship of different digital provider characteristics and access points to the reading and math achievement outcomes of students from low-income families.
They found that digital providers, on average, charged significantly more per hour than non-digital providers and delivered fewer hours of services to students than face-to-face tutoring providers. Further, they found that English language learners and students with disabilities were less likely to realize achievement gains through OST tutoring and that digital providers were often not prepared to differentiate instruction to better serve students with special needs.
They concluded that their findings are suggestive of potentially troubling patterns in access to different types of digital tutoring and that more research is necessary to understand whether treatment in digital tutoring is inequitable.
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Sarah Garcia is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota who studies population health and inequality.