addressing learning loss with Online Tutoring for Schools

We envision ASSISTments as an online tutoring platform for schools and districts.

Every day, new evidence is published that shows how the COVID pandemic is already causing significant learning loss and increased educational inequity (Bacher-Hicks et al., 2020; Chetty et al., 2020; Engzell et al., 2020; Kraft et al., 2020; Kuhfeld et al., 2020; Maldonado & De Witte, 2020; Stein, 2020). Addressing the loss and inequality by providing students with personalized high-dosage tutoring is a commonly discussed policy proposal because it has been shown effective. And governments around the world are responding to this idea by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in versatile tutoring programs (for U.K., Whitaker, 2020; for Netherlands, see Slavin, 2020; for Tennessee, see Tennessee Tutoring Corp, 2020). Unfortunately, the number of students who need this kind of support far outweighs international ability for funding. One-to-one tutoring in which a tutor meets with a student 2-3 times a week costs roughly $10,000 per pupil per year (Cook et al., 2013)! The average per pupil expenditure in the U.S. is currently $12,612; adding high-dosage tutoring for every student would nearly double the cost of education (United States Census Bureau, 2020).

Schools already manage on-site teachers, para-professionals, and volunteers. Managing online rooms is more difficult, but the pandemic has shown us that even when schools reopen, there will be a role for online support. The pandemic has also shown us that online settings have transformed education. We propose to engage new workers from around the country such as student teachers, retired teachers and professionals, or AmeriCorp volunteers while empowering schools to manage their own tutoring programs more effectively.

Our goal is to build-out the ASSISTments platform to connect tutors directly with schools to host easily accessible and affordable high-dosage online tutoring programs. The ASSISTments platform, which currently serves over 10,000 teacher-users and 500,000 student-users, will be expanded so students can easily request tutoring from home or be assigned to receive daily support while doing their classwork or nightly homework. To be clear, we also propose to provide schools with the infrastructure to manage their volunteer and tutor workforce and to host online communication between tutor and student. We envision a world in which students go to Online Tutoring Rooms where they receive support from tutors of various types, all organized by the local school.

For example, consider Kadin, a student doing her homework at home. She encounters a problem she is having trouble with and types a question in the chat box. The tutor, Ahmad Dias, becomes ready to start a session. Kadin can choose to join with audio, without audio, or she can decline the session.

We recognize that not all kids will ask for help. As our system becomes more sophisticated, it will be able to detect when a student is struggling to offer help.

Here is a screenshot of the waiting room where the human tutor can see that Ruben is next in line and asking about the value of x.

And here Tutor Cindy can see three thing on the Tutor Dashboard as she tutors Ruben: (a) the shared whiteboard, (b) the chat channel, and (c) tabs of information on the student. This image shows the tab overview.

Intellectual Merit

One major problem is that no one really knows what characteristics make online tutoring effective, and we plan to study that question with this grant. ASSISTments is one of the only online math platforms that enables researchers to run studies within the platform to experiment with educational interventions. Commercial tutoring services like or Wyzant do not capture or make data available for research purposes.

We propose to study the multiple ways online tutoring could be deployed. For example, should tutors work with students 1-1 or with a small group of 2-3 so the children can help each other? Should tutors be available with video, audio, or just text? If a tutor does a lot of talking, how long is too long, and at what point does the tutor lose the learner? To make each session most productive, what information should we provide to tutors prior to their sessions? Researchers can study whether or not a tutoring session is productive by using the pre-existing tools within our platform. For example, if a student gets the next similar problem correct after the tutoring session is over, it serves as a measure that the session was productive. We propose to scale-up our infrastructure to test out multiple tutoring models.

Broader Impacts

By creating the space and the connections for schools and tutors to work together, the broader impacts of our proposal will expand the profile of tutors, the context of their work, and if they are successful, ameliorate the learning losses that occurred during the COVID pandemic. Empowering schools and their districts to incorporate a new level of school personnel could be a model adopted for special education, higher education, AmeriCorp Volunteers, and tutoring centers across the country.


Bacher-Hicks, A., Goodman, J., Mulhern, C. (2020). Inequality in household adaptation to schooling shocks: Covid-induced online learning engagement in real time (Working Paper 27555). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Hendren, N., Stepner, M., & The Opportunity Insights Team. (2020). The economic impacts of COVID-19: Evidence from a new public database built using private sector data (Working Paper 27431). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Cook, Philip, Kenneth Dodge, George Farkas, Roland Fryer, Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig, Susan Mayer, Harold Pollack, and Laurence Steinberg. (2014). “The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth: Results from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago.” NBER Working Paper no. 19862.

Engzell, P., Frey, A., & Verhagen, M. D. (2020, October 29). Learning inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic. SocArXiv Papers.

Kraft, M. A. & Goldstein, M. (2020, May 21). Getting tutoring right to reduce COVID-19 learning loss. Brookings Institution, Brown Center Chalkboard.

Kuhfeld M, Soland J, Tarasawa B, Johnson A, Ruzek E, Liu J. Projecting the Potential Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Academic Achievement. Educational Researcher. 2020;49(8):549-565.

Maldonado, J. E., & DeWitte, K. (2020). The effect of school closures on standardized student test outcomes. Discussion Paper Series DPS20.17, Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven.

Slavin, R. (2020, December 14). Slavin: An Open Letter to President-Elect Biden—a Tutoring Marshall Plan to Heal Our Students. The 74.

Stein, P. (2020, October, 30). Washington Post: In D.C., achievement gap widens, early literacy progress declines during pandemic, data show. The DC Line: News, Views and Events.

Tennessee Tutoring Corps. (2020).

U.K. Department for Education. (2020, June 19). Billion pound Covid catch-up plan to tackle impact of lost teaching time. [Press Release]

United States Census Bureau. (2020, May 11). Spending Per Pupil Increased for Sixth Consecutive Year. United States Census Bureau.

Whittaker, F. (2020) £1bn schools coronavirus ‘catch-up’ package revealed. Schools Week.