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The U. S. Department of Education Announces Tutor.com: Virtual Relief for Homework Headaches
Ohanian Comment: So what is the Office of Innovation and Improvement, operating out of the U. S. Department of Education, and why is this office sending out announcements about the wonders of Tutors.com? The Education Innovator comes out under the name of Nina S. Rees, Assistant Deputy Secretary and its opening paragraph reads like any press release from corporate America:

The school day has ended. Students across the country pull out their homework, but as many of them begin, they encounter some difficulty. The assignments are challenging, and the students do not understand the concepts required to complete them. Parents want to help, but most of them cannot remember the last time they had to multiply fractions, solve for x, or write a complex thesis statement. Thousands of children and their families have found a solution to this problem with Tutor.com.
Got that? I think you should write your Congressional representative, asking why we taxpayers are paying federal employees to send out press releases for commercial firms. Then you might want to write Robert B. Reich, University Professor at Brandeis University, and on the board of directors at Tutor.com. Ask if if they can't afford their own PR employees rather than hire the work out to the U. S. Department of Education.

John Reid is also on the board of directors. He formerly had "executive assignments" at Coca Cola and was Chief Operating Officer at Edison Schools.

I don't know anything about Tutors.com, but clearly they see huge business opportunities in the after school tutoring market, financed by local schools under the NCLB thumb. But the schlock coming out of the U. S. Department of Education is so outrageous, I'm going to paste in the whole thing.

Your tax dollars at work.
Tutor.com provides one-on-one learning and information services to people in the United States and internationally. Using Internet technology, Tutor.com links students and other information-seekers to professional librarians and subject-area experts.

Tutor.com is also an approved provider of supplemental educational services in 25 states across the country. Supplemental educational services" under No Child Left Behind are free tutoring and other academic assistance available for low-income children who attend Title I schools that have been designated by the state as in need of improvement for two years or more. This tutoring may be offered in math, reading/language arts, and other core subjects, before or after school, on weekends, or in the summer.

Live Homework Help, the companys flagship and most popular program, was introduced to libraries in 2001. This service provides one-on-one assistance in math, science, social studies, and English to students in 4th through 12th grade, and is available seven days a week from 2:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. If students have questions about writing scientific hypotheses or solving geometry problems, they can log onto the Internet from their home or library computers, link to the Live Homework Help website via the Tutor.com homepage, and immediately connect with live tutors who can walk them through the process of finding answers.

Tutors with Live Homework Help are often certified teachers, retired teachers, professors, and graduate school students. In order to apply, potential tutors must submit three teaching or tutoring samples. Once hired, all tutors complete a rigorous training and certification program that includes technology education, training in online tutoring etiquette, mock tutoring sessions, and professional development seminars, similar to those for schoolteachers, to improve the tutors instructional skills in the online environment. Many tutors specialize in honors-level or Advanced Placement courses. Every tutor also undergoes a full background check. As tutors continue with the program, they meet with mentors who assess their work at regular intervals. Mentors must have been with the program for at least one year, have high tutee ratings, and must be recommended by other senior tutors.

Although students who use Live Homework Help are primarily in the elementary through high school grade levels, college freshmen are allowed to log-in to the site as well. According to George Cigale, founder and CEO of Tutor.com, Students need help during the after school hours even if during the day theyre in a classroom with the best teacher in the world He notes the program is simple to use and that kids dont need any [computer] training. Of course, students with low levels of literacy would need extra help and guidance with content from an adult.

To start a session, a student must enter his username and password, then select a subject and grade level. Once the student accesses the program, he is immediately connected to a tutor who has been selected for him based on his tutoring needs in an Online Classroom. In this virtual classroom, the student and tutor can chat in an informal style akin to instant messaging. Their discussion and any work that they complete are posted on an interactive whiteboard, which they both can view and modify. The student and tutor can access a number of computer drawing and mathematical tools, which makes graphs and diagrams easier for the pair to visualize and work on together. If a student needs help researching a report, the tutor can lead a session where the pair can co-browse the Internet.

Parents are encouraged to monitor their childrens online activity and share their childrens tutoring experience with teachers. Parents and students who wish to customize their one-on-one tutoring sessions may schedule specific times to work with the same tutor. Tutor.com provides a Tutor Profile webpage, which contains all tutors educational histories, their schedules, listings of subjects that they are certified to tutor, and statements that explain their individual tutoring styles, interests, and reasons for tutoring. Previous tutees can rate the tutors with a maximum of five stars, and these ratings are also posted with each profile.

In many areas of the country there is no charge to use Live Homework Help, because the library covers the cost. Students need only an Internet-enabled computer and a library card, which they use to log-in to the site. There is a flat-rate fee to subscribe in other areas, while some parents may choose to hire tutors at hourly rates for private, online instruction in any of the Homework Help subjects. Students who use Tutor.com as a supplemental educational services provider may access the system through computers at school or an after school program.

The Virtual Reference Toolkit is another Tutor.com service. This program gives reference and search assistance to library patrons even if they are not at the library. Users can connect to the Virtual Reference Toolkit from any Internet-capable computer and can interact with a library aide or a member of the Tutor.com reference staff. This service enables libraries to extend the personalized services traditionally offered only at the physical reference desk, and can be particularly helpful if a student is doing a research paper or looking for primary source information. Both Live Homework Help and the Virtual Reference Toolkit are available in Spanish.

Tutor.com currently serves over 4,600 academic, public, military, and special libraries throughout the world. The program primarily works with libraries, but it also serves after school organizations and schools. Live Homework Help assisted nearly 270,000 students in 2004, and 94 percent reported in post-session surveys that they benefited from the service and would recommend it to a friend.

As mentioned previously, Tutor.com is an approved SES provider in 25 states. The U.S. Department of Educations Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) also funds a new initiative from the Michigan Community College Association (MICA), which is bringing the Virtual Reference Toolkit to 18 publicly funded colleges in the state.

Resources:

Tutor.com Supplemental educational services

Note: Tutor.com is one example of a tutorial, supplemental educational services program. The program does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation and may not have the same benefits for all students.

— Nina S. Rees, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education
The Education Innovator


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