Back to school -- but still learning online

The stimulus bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, will send $122 billion to schools over three years, and a sizable portion of that money will go toward tutoring. But because of labor shortages, the high cost of quality tutoring and the influence of a growing ed-tech industry, much of the tutoring will itself take place through a computer screen — and not always with a human on the other end.

For-profit companies and nonprofit groups are selling virtual tutoring services to school districts. Some programs use live video to try to replicate in-person tutoring as closely as possible. Others skip the human tutor and use artificial intelligence. And some are essentially instant-messaging services, with students and tutors randomly paired for brief typed chats, often organized around homework assignments.

Spending on virtual tutoring is explicitly allowed under federal stimulus guidelines, and the Education Department said quality remote tutoring can be a “great option for many students, as long as the tutoring addresses individual students’ needs and produces strong educational outcomes.”