Outsourcing tutoring

Can everything be outsourced? American students are happily learning from Indian tutors at dirt cheap prices, and other companies are outsourcing grading and other teaching duties.

Outsourcing Grades If outsourcing call centers and medical processing makes sense, why not outsource high school and college tutoring to Indian or Chinese workers, as well? That's the issue raised by a fascinating story in the Washington Post this morning, Homework Help, From a World Away."

Amit Paley's story opens with the sroy of college student Alex DelMonte:

It was almost 3 a.m. and ... Alex Del Monte ... was cramming like crazy. ... [T]he George Washington University sophomore knew he would flunk his Statistics 52 exam later that day if he didn't call his tutor for help. But so late at night? Not a problem if your tutor works 8,500 miles away and 9 1/2 hours ahead in Bangalore, India.

In an hour-long session that cost just $18, the Indian tutor, who said his name was Mike, spent an hour walking Del Monte through such esoteric concepts as confidence intervals and alpha divisions... Del Monte got an A on the final exam.

An excellent deal for students - and their parents - like Amita Achutuni, a 15-year-old American of Indian descent, whose geometry tutor, Lekha Kamalasan, teaches her over the Internet for just $20 an hour. That's a great deal for Amita's mom, who previously paid $80 an hour for in-person tutor for her son.

Not everyone is happy with the new arrangement, not surprisingly. At issue is millions in No Child Left Behind funds, which US-based tutoring companies using Indian teachers are competing for.

Teachers unions are vigorously lobbying for legislation that would make it more difficult for overseas tutors to receive No Child Left Behind funds. [Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers] said after-school tutors should be required to pass the same rigorous certification process as public school teachers.

"Quality control doesn't end at 3 o'clock when the school bell rings," he said. "If you need a highly qualified teacher in school at 2:59, you should have a qualified teacher as a tutor after school at 3:01."

As with everything in the world, it seems that teaching can be broken down and the pieces outsourced.

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is outsourcing the grading of some papers to Smarthinking, a District-based online tutoring company that works with 70,000 students at 300 schools across the country and has both tutors in the United States and abroad.

"Essentially we are acting as the teaching assistant," said Burck Smith, the firm's chief executive and co-founder. "We can do better service, more consistent service, and at a better price."

Smith says he believes that eventually schools will outsource their office hours, review sessions and other aspects of instruction to teachers that might be located anywhere in the world. Right now, about 20 percent of Smarthinking's 500 tutors are in countries such as India, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa and Israel.

"This is no different than what happens in any industry. Labor gets stratified," Smith said. "And that leads to the democratization of education, because the lower prices for tutoring means the rich and poor can access the same services."

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