Virtual Tutoring of Students

January 24th, 2012

The Times writes about it!

The program is the creation of Seth Weinberger, a 56-year-old former technology lawyer from Evanston, Ill., and the founder of Innovations for Learning, a 19-year-old nonprofit organization that has set its sights on raising persistently low reading scores among the nation’s poorest children. The tutoring software is being tried by over 550 volunteers in 60 low-performing classrooms in Chicago, Detroit, Miami and Washington, as well as at P.S. 55, where in 2010, only 15 percent of the third graders passed the state English exam.

Countless studies, many outlined in an exhaustive 1998 literacy report by the National Research Council, indicate that there is a strong connection between how fast young readers progress and how often they encounter written language. But according to the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, less than half of the nation’s young are read to at home on a daily basis.

As a result, the literacy organization Everybody Wins! New York plants more than 1,000 volunteers in city schools. New York Cares sponsors volunteers in an early morning reading program. And in September, the national advocacy group Reading Partnersbegan a volunteer tutoring initiative in seven of the city’s poorest-performing elementary schools.

What sets Mr. Weinberg’s program apart is that the tutors arrive via technology. “If it takes a village to raise a child,” he said, “it now takes technology to connect that village.”

His methods are not without critics.

At schools like P.S. 3, in the West Village, parents gush about the “magical” connection in-school mentors develop with the students they help. There, where 78 percent of third graders passed the statewide English exam, dozens of reading volunteers show up “live” every week.

At schools like P.S. 55, the Innovations for Learning program presents a welcome solution to a persistent problem.

We’ve been doing this at the Harlan Institute, through our distance-learning mentorship program, HARLANconnect for some time now.