A thousand blossoms blooming
Bloom’s seminal work on the 2 Sigma Problem, carried out in the early 1980’s is a classic must-read for edtech ventures today. The outcomes of the research are startling, showing that an average student under tutoring performs about two standard deviations above the average performance of a conventional class.
Or put another way, an average student following a tutoring program outperforms 98% of students in a conventional classroom!
Since then, the private tutoring market has grown significantly, although new regulations in China last year driven by concerns around equity and student well-being did have a significant negative impact on that market.
Efficacy AND equity
The good thing about the private tutoring market is its efficacy – it raises learner outcomes. The disadvantage however is that the rich tend to benefit disproportionately, because they can afford it. The resulting inequity can’t be a good design principle for the provision of education.
Since Bloom, the search has been on to provide solutions that yield similar efficacy at scale. Paper is potentially such a solution. For a fixed price, Paper sells licenses to schools and districts to make its online tutoring support available to every student, around the clock, with no cap on usage. Students can connect with a trained tutor for homework help, writing feedback and study support across all K-12 subject areas. Teachers at schools can access these sessions, see which students need support, and adjust their instruction accordingly.
I’m enthusiastic about this approach because it enables both efficacy and equity in education. The risk of inequity isn’t completed removed of course because richer schools might be more likely to adopt the solution than poorer. Yet with most K-12 education systems funded publicly, that risk could be mitigated by policy. A second risk could be increased competition between schools and tutoring companies for teachers. Yet the deployment of university students and new/re-entrants into the profession could also work to increase the overall talent pool of teachers available.
Looking forward >>
I’m very interested to see how Paper will grow in the coming years and believe there could be international potential for this type of solution.