Last year, I was invited by recently retired Dean Ralph Fessler to join the Johns Hopkins University School of Education National Advisory Council. The mutually investigative conversations with Dean Fessler were compelling, touching on various underlying problems of the US education system and the role that JHU and other schools of education can and should play in driving desperately needed fixes. These intellectually honest and provocative talks made it easy to accept the invitation.
This past Saturday, I drove down to Baltimore for our second council meeting, where I took over as Chair of the National Advisory Council from Maryland Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Nancy Grasmick. I was also asked to present to the council about Tutor.com and how we operate. After getting through a quick history of the company and business facts (customer, tutors, students…), I tried to summarize the underlying concepts that drive the way we deliver a high quality educational experience in a way that engages students. I humbly propose that these concepts can and should drive the way our public schools educate our students. Here are the five points I spoke about that Tutor.com focuses on every day:
- Student feedback and ratings. Regardless of who is paying for our services (Schools, Libraries, Parents, Corporations…), we treat the student, who is connecting to one of our tutors, as the customer. We strive to provide every customer with a great learning experience. The customer may not always be right (like when one of them wants our tutors to do their homework for them), but their post-tutoring-session feedback is critical and drives everything we do.
- Complete Transparency. Every interaction between a student and tutor is recorded. We know exactly what happens in every tutoring session (chat log, whiteboard drawings, resources used…). These sessions are available for students to print out and share with their teachers, for parents to see what they’re spending money on, and for our tutors and mentors to review for quality control and continuous improvement.
- Regular and Frequent Quality Control Review and Mentoring. Not just to make promotion, suspension, and termination decisions (which we do), but primarily to make sure that we are doing as much as we can to keep our tutors great and our students happy. Tutors, especially ones who also have day jobs as teachers in public schools or universities, are thrilled with the level of feedback and support our mentors provide, and tell us it has made them better educators in general.
- High Standards. When we first started providing on-demand live one-to-one help years ago, post-session satisfaction reviews from students were at about a 75% rate (got the help needed and would recommend to friend). We didn’t feel that was good enough. Now we are consistently at 95% after lots of hard work and investment in our tutors, our systems, and our technologies. Every student that comes to us is a motivated learner who is stuck at some point, and looking for help. It’s at those points that they either fall behind and lose confidence or get critical timely help to keep them on the right path. We have have high expectations for our tutors, as well as our students.
- The Authority and Ability to Make Changes. We have all the data and feedback we need to know what needs improvement (e.g. new classroom tools) or which tutors aren’t doing as well as others. We, unlike most school principals, actually have the authority and the will to take action when necessary. Features get added to our online classroom and learning tools within weeks. Tutors are provided mentoring and professional development daily, and if no improvement is seen, they are no longer allowed to tutor our students. Because the student is the customer and the customer should not have to suffer through an inadequate learning experience.
5.5 Million one-to-one students sessions, and counting — about 100,000 more each month, with a 95% recommend rate. Mostly from Teens! Teens who’d much rather be doing a long list of other things than working on their homework or test prep with an online tutor.
You might read this and say, “well, that’s nice for Tutor.com, but I don’t see how our public schools could ever operate this way.” And then you would rattle off a dozen excuses for how there isn’t political will to change, or there isn’t enough money, or the system is too big and entrenched, or the tests aren’t good enough to truly understand our students, or it’s unfair to judge teachers by how well their students are performing, or we shouldn’t be teaching to tests… There are lots of excuses. I can list many more and I used to believe in them.
Now I get excited about the pace of change and how many people in powerful roles are no longer willing to accept the excuses, including Secretary Duncan’s rhetoric yesterday: “I think we are lying to children and families when we tell children that they are meeting standards and, in fact, they are woefully unprepared to be successful in high school and have almost no chance of going to a good university and being successful”.
In my next post, I’ll share some of the material I’m reading to get myself informed and knowledgeable about school/education reform movements, so I can make even a small difference when I can. You can start with these couple of recent NY Times Magazine front cover articles about what makes a great teacher and the role of teacher unions:
Thanks for reading,
George Cigale, email@example.com
Previous CEO posts can be found at http://ceotutor.blogspot.com/