California is now a finalist for the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant. We are one of 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, that is competing for the $4.35 billion that President Obama allocated to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. California would be eligible for upwards of $700 million of that money, and over 300 local districts and county offices of education signed would be vying for that funding. The winners will be announced in September.
There are many problems with today's schools, especially in California, and there is one thread of similarity between all of the proposed solutions—make education more personal. California should ask itself one question when deciding how to spend their federal money: Does this personalize education for our students?
Solutions pursued in the past—more technology, better assessments, smaller class sizes—only capture half the problem. Our technology needs to be more adaptive, our assessments need to be more authentic, and our class sizes need to be limited—but they all need to be more personalized.
We need to spend money on better teacher recruitment, training, and professional development. But we will never have a teaching force that can reach every student, however talented they are without additional support (read: personalized support).
This is why I believe the best investment in education—and the best use of our potential $700 million windfall—is one-on-one tutoring. It is the most personalized way we can educate our children. We all learn differently, so we must teach differently, to each of our students, at each of their paces. We need to help our teachers and overburdened school staff by giving them time to plan and reflect, to become better teachers. We will be so much more effective if we can identify those students who are struggling early on, and match them with a private tutor to help his or her academic challenges.
This could look like homework help, test preparation, or general study skills or organizational help. Tutors can explain concepts that students don't get in class, thereby improving their confidence, motivation, and eventual grades and test scores. Tutors can reach students where teachers cannot, possessing a different kind of authority and relationship than parents and friends. They are mentors, peers, instructors, and coaches. Students who participate in one-on-one tutoring not only show academic growth, but social and psychological growth as well. Finally, tutors can make learning, which for far too many students is surreal, irrelevant, and boring, and show students how real, relevant, and rigorous learning can be.
Individuals and communities can talk to their schools, districts, and local politicians to direct this money in the most personalized way. Write letters, make phone calls, or set up meetings so you can voice your opinion about personalized education and one-on-one tutoring. Explain how it makes a teacher's job easier by being an additional resource for their students and families, and gives them more time to focus on planning and professional development. Talk to your teachers, your principals, and your local college counselor about the importance of working collaboratively with tutors, to personalize their educational experience.
Seth Linden runs Tutorpedia, a tutoring company that serves K-12 students in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Prior to that, he taught and tutored in both public and private schools.