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Ohio Department of Education selects virtual tutoring company to work with select school districts

A students learns math problems from a virtual tutor with Varsity Tutors in Schools.
Varsity Tutors in Schools
The Ohio Department of Education selected Varsity Tutors in Schools as a new vendor to implement high-quality tutoring in school districts across the state.

The Ohio Department of Education is adding a virtual tutoring company to the Future Forward Ohio program to help students recover from learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Varsity Tutors for Schools was selected by the department to implement a "high-dosage" tutoring program that some school districts will get to utilize to help K-12 students with mathematics and English language arts. The company has worked with over 200 school districts across the U.S., including Columbus City Schools, and it employs about 40,000 tutors that cover a range of K-12 subjects.

Varsity Tutors' Chief Informational Officer Anthony Salcito said the company believes that individualized virtual instruction support is going to be a norm for schooling going forward. While total virtual learning is believed to have caused widespread learning loss during the pandemic, he thinks adding a virtual component to schooling, especially tutoring, will help students learn better.

"I think we often tend to think about tutoring as a response to learning loss in a pandemic, but the truth is learning loss has been around for a long time," Salcito said.

According to a press release, each Ohio district that partners with Varsity Tutors for Schools will receive a tailored tutoring program designed to fit their unique needs and requirementsin order to close learning gaps. There will be 1-to-1 and small group high-dosage tutoring available for personalized support in mathematics and English language arts. Some districts will also have the option to take advantage of the company's "Teacher-Assigned Tutoring," which gives teachers the power to prescribe live, face-to-face tutoring sessions tailored to students requiring targeted intervention throughout the academic year.

Salcito says the company has received a list of 20 districts so far that want to work with them and they are finalizing the districts that will be selected to work with them.

Salcito said in the districts that they work with, they've seen tremendous progress with regards to test scores. He said in some cases, districts saw a 200% performance improvement in a given semester or a given school year in subjects like math and reading.

"What we found is when online learning is part of a broader mix of learning modalities, it's tremendously effective and it's naturally what students...certainly the students that we'd be serving, they're naturally comfortable of doing," he said.

He said the effectiveness of tutoring depends on keeping students focused. He said this happens when students feel a tutor is a sounding board and lifts their confidence. He said when this happens, it unblocks some of the concerns and questions students might be afraid to even ask their own educator.

Another way the company is using technology is using AI to pair students to one of its thousands of tutors to find the best match for a given subject and with scheduling.

"Our tutors are live. They share voice and video to collaborate with the student. Our tutors are also managed consistently, so you can have the same tutor work with the child during the course of the entire school year," Salcito said.

Salcito said Ohio's approach to addressing learning loss with Future Forward Ohio has been thoughtful and is glad to be one of many vendors chosen to work with Ohio school districts through the program.

"Tutoring has existed as long as formalized education has existed, but it's only been available to the privileged few until now. I think schools are recognizing the value of tutoring in making it available to all children," he said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.