John Failla talks tech, tutoring, and post-pandemic approaches to education.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
John Failla is the co-founder and CEO of Pearl, a leading research-based tutoring platform, a company that recently announced the launch of their ecosystem in partnership with 10 of the nation’s top universities and education organizations to help drive student academic growth. The ecosystem is a combination of its own operational and data platform with unique resources from each of the partners. Pearl provides states, districts, and educational institutions with all the tools they need to improve student outcomes through large-scale tutoring programs.
What experience from your past strongly informs your current approach?
I love that you asked that — Pearl was inspired by my experience as a student-athlete [sport: Lacrosse] at The University of Richmond. My tutor not only helped me on the academic side but held me accountable and became a mentor to me. Maintaining an environment where relationship-based tutoring thrives is at the forefront of all decisions we make at Pearl.
You’ve posited, “Community + Tutoring = Sustainability” — could you elaborate, and add in the element of today’s technology into that equation?
Billions of dollars have entered the tutoring space during ESSER, and as the fiscal cliffs approach, administrators are trying to figure out how they can sustain these tutoring programs that have launched. Community tutoring programs are significantly more sustainable than for-profit vendor programs. These programs are cheaper to run because they are not profit motivated, they provide sustainable instructor pools (in universities and communities), and are proving to also develop a teacher pipeline from the universities into local districts.
Tutoring works if done the right way – what are some obvious wrong ways, and what is the pathway to increasing rightness for tutoring? What is the ideal scenario for great tutoring? What does ideal tutoring look like?
The most obvious wrong way to do tutoring is through homework help. Helping a student complete homework is not tutoring. Tutoring consists of trained tutors, leveraging curriculum, meeting 2-3 times a week, 1:1 or in a small group no larger than 3.
‘Tutoring consists of trained tutors, leveraging curriculum, meeting 2-3 times a week, 1:1 or in a small group no larger than 3.’
The main reason why states and districts are launching bad tutoring programs is because they do not have access to the data or research that shows them what tutoring actually works for their community. If they are able to find the right partners in training and content, they lack the all-in-one platform that makes it easy for them to operationalize the program and collect critical data points proving its efficacy.
Pearl launched our ecosystem to help states and districts do tutoring the right way. We have recruited the nations leading experts across the critical verticals of evidence-based tutoring(training, content, assessment, etc), and connect states/districts with the right ecosystem partner depending on the outcomes they are trying to achieve.
What exactly is your ecosystem, who’s involved, what are some exciting highlights?
The Tutoring Ecosystem is where Pearl’s technology platform and the nation’s leading colleges, universities and community partners come together to help start, scale and sustain high-impact tutoring across their communities. We’re thrilled to have partners including the National Student Support Accelerator, the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins, Deans for Impact and many others as founding ecosystem partners. Some of the highlights I’m especially excited about include assessments, funding support, program design, and third-party research. We are constantly searching for new tutoring and ecosystem partners, so if anyone is interested, they should reach out to us at tutorwithpearl.com
Let’s talk more about tutoring in the current education environment. What are you witnessing with schools, parents, students; where does tutoring fit in, in this post-pandemic world of learning?
We are seeing states and districts launch three different types of tutoring programs. These include homegrown programs, vendor programs, and voucher programs.
- SEA/LEAs started by working with vendors where they would bring in 10 tutoring companies to support the students in their community. These programs flourished during ESSER but are starting to be scrutinized as ESSER dries up and there is less money to go around.
- We are seeing the most growth and sustainability in homegrown programs. States like Illinois, New Jersey, Arkansas, Virginia, and Michigan are leading the charge in these efforts.
- Voucher programs are popping up in more red states. This approach provides parents with a stipend to spend on tutoring providers of their choice. This is the least common program and the one that has the least amount of data/accountability tracking.
We expect all states/districts to maintain these three programs after ESSER, with the main focus being on homegrown programs. Federal Work Study is increasing its allocation to community-tutoring efforts, and we have seen universities rally being the National Partnership for Student Success to learn how to launch these evidence-based community tutoring programs.
Is there anything you wanted to mention that we didn’t cover, concerning Pearl, or the future of learning?
I think the application of AI in tutoring is a fascinating opportunity. We are seeing a lot of tutoring providers develop AI tutors so that they can replace the human in the process. Based on John Hattie’s Meta Analysis of 800 studies, we know the relationship to be the single most important factor in any educational outcome (.72 effect size).
We are taking a different approach, we are leveraging AI to enhance the relationships on our platform as opposed to replacing them. We are focusing on the relationship between the student and tutor, tutor and parent, tutor and coach, and enhancing the relationship between the admins and the decision makers they report to.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org