Stop criticizing tutors

Sawyer Barta

The sound of a teacher calling attention to the class interrupts post-test chatter. Classmates share looks of confusion and distress as the teacher lectures about why tutors should not be necessary for success on the test — an addition to their routine reminder for the class to refrain from sharing test scores. Students have heard this spiel countless times, possibly instilling a sense of inferiority in those who rely on tutors for extra support. This criticism is harmful to the acceptance of different ways of learning, as tutors are a vital resource in our community. According to an October Bark survey, 49 percent of students said that tutors are a helpful addition to their learning, showing that many students value their learning benefits. Tutors are advantageous, as they allow for increased personalized learning, teach more extensive academic skills and are a source of extra support that may not always be available or realistic from busy parents.

“We find that tutoring programs yield consistent and substantial positive impacts on learning outcomes, with an overall pooled effect size estimate of 0.37 [standard deviation (SD)].” ”

— NBER

A review of a meta analysis on school tutoring, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), summarizes the goals of tutoring as “improving learning outcomes and advancing equity in educational systems.” The NBER directed a study of 96 schools in 2020 and published their positive observations.

“We find that tutoring programs yield consistent and substantial positive impacts on learning outcomes, with an overall pooled effect size estimate of 0.37 [standard deviation (SD)],” the NBER said.

This data is impactful, as a 0.37 SD equates to a student’s jump from the 50th to 66th percentile in school. Thus, the analysis concludes that tutoring is a beneficial program that increases learning.

In our community, teachers openly criticize the use of tutors, partly because they claim it undermines their teaching methods and their credibility as a teacher. In multiple advanced classes, I have experienced a teacher chide students for having a tutor outside of class, insisting that advanced class levels call for the ability to work more individually. However, I myself have experienced the benefits of tutoring while in an advanced math class. In addition, disapproval voiced by peers adds to the stigma around having a tutor. Many students see tutors as an advantage in our competitive school environment and therefore view it as an easy way out of work.

Illustration by Sawyer Barta

Although Redwood is known for its competitive academics, students suffered from the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic due to gaps in the online curriculum. In an article published by Chalkbeat, an education reporting site, reporters Matt Barnum and Claire Bryan summarized the online learning experience.

“Two-thirds to three-quarters of teachers said their students were less engaged during remote instruction than before the pandemic, and that engagement declined even further over the course of the semester,” Barnum and Bryan said.

As a result, families that could afford the extra help looked to tutors as supplementary resources, and the increased use of technology correlated with increased online outreach. Agile Education Marketing wrote about the connection between technology and private learning in an article detailing increased technological use.

“Because digital and e-learning have increased in popularity, remote private tutoring has also increased, blending all segments into a more streamlined process,” Agile summarized. 

Some teachers also argue that tutors compromise the way they want the material to be taught, such as specific methods to solve math problems. It is important to consider the question: Is it fair to (rightfully) provide academic accommodations while condemning other students for seeking out another beneficial approach? The answer is no. 

In addition to further developing what is taught in class, tutors teach students new skills that many teachers may not have capacity or the means to teach. Although tutors are most impactful in younger grades, as the meta analysis from the NBER study found, they are beneficial for all grade levels. Specifically, reading tutoring has a more profound effect in younger grades, while math tutoring is more beneficial for upper-elementary students. 

When considering this topic, it is also important to mention socioeconomic disparities and who has access to tutors. Many teachers claim that tutors are an unfair advantage to students of a higher socioeconomic status and use this argument to condemn it. 

However, peer tutoring is an available and free resource at Redwood, consisting of student tutors after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 4 p.m. Although lacking professional training, student tutors maintain the goals of higher level tutors — aiding the learning of their peers — and are a cost-effective alternative.

“Providing universal tutoring can reduce the stigma associated with receiving extra help. It can also ensure that these supports are available to all students, regardless of family income,” an article by the Learning Policy Institute said.

 Teachers must stop criticizing students for using a resource to aid their learning and instead see tutors as an extension of their learning goals. Tutors need to be viewed as a resource for teachers as well, helping them to achieve the goal of promoting advancement of knowledge and skills in the next generation.