Future of free virtual tutoring service in Arlington schools unclear

What is going to happen to the free digital tutoring service made available to all Arlington, Virginia, middle and high school students?

The school system’s proposed fiscal 2024 budget doesn’t include funding for the program called Paper, which provided sixth through 12th graders in Arlington Public Schools with free virtual, on-demand tutoring help.

Paper launched in August, and has been used by 23% of the county’s 26,000 students, according to school board documents.

It is one of several virtual tutoring services that school systems across the county have turned to as part of pandemic recovery efforts. But in the middle of budget season, those same jurisdictions are considering whether it’s worth the investment.

Arlington’s 12-month contract with Paper is scheduled to end Aug. 20. It cost the county $602,715, according to a presentation for Tuesday’s school board budget work session.

Because the proposed budget doesn’t include funding for the virtual tutoring help, the school system has to consider how to proceed. Options, according to the presentation, include making Paper available to all middle and high schoolers for the 2023-24 school year, making it available only to seventh through 10th graders, or finding another company to pursue a contract with.

Though there currently isn’t funding for the service in the proposed budget, the school board can allocate funds for it before the budget is finalized, a school system spokesman said.

Twenty-eight percent of sixth through eighth graders have used Paper, as have 19% of high schoolers, according to the presentation. The average length of a “live help” session is 30 minutes.

Paper provides students with help on assignments, and offers the chance for feedback on writing and studying assistance for all subjects.

In nearby Fairfax County, school officials received an update on their investment in online tutoring platform Tutor.com in November. A majority of students didn’t use Tutor.com when it was made available at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and the students who did use the service weren’t those who needed the extra help the most, a report from the school system’s Office of Research and Strategic Improvement found.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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