After his teaching degree at McGill, Phil Cutler spent a few years building a tutoring business. It was challenging–affluent families could afford extra help but the other 90% didn’t have the resources at home and not many school districts were buying tutoring. With equitable access in mind, Cutler bucked the business-to-consumer trend of the time and found a few districts willing to partner for extra support. By the beginning of 2020, Paper had 30 headquarters employees and about 150 tutors.
Cutler’s radical proposition was anytime support for all students in every subject. Students log in through their school district and connect with a tutor even if English was not their first language. Live text-based tutoring is available around the clock. Students can upload essays and receive grade-level appropriate feedback.
A year into the pandemic, it was clear that there was a lot of unfinished learning. Most U.S. school districts had distributed take home technology and many began to provision support. Many of them turned to Paper for around the clock support in academic support especially math and writing. By the middle of 2021, Paper had about 1,000 tutors.
A $100 million round of funding in July 2021 brought support from leading investors including IVP and Salesforce Ventures as well as well regarded edtech fund Reach Capital.
Early school district partnership results were promising and when federal funding began flowing more districts signed on for 24/7 academic support. More than 50 districts in greater Los Angeles partnered with Paper, then 25 districts in Illinois joined. Palm Beach County, Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville), and recently Clark County (Las Vegas) all signed up to make tutoring available to all learners.
In February, the company raised a staggering $270 million bringing together Softbank and Sapphire Ventures in a round valuing the Montreal startup at $1.5 billion.
Today, Paper has about 500 corporate employees and 2,100 tutors supporting more than 2.5 million learners in 30 states. It’s available statewide in Mississippi, a state that has demonstrated dramatic improvement in literacy rates.
Usage rates and patterns depend on district leadership. High flyers will use the service when and where they need it but gaining use by struggling students takes administrative advocacy and teacher support. Paper customer success teams are often located in partner districts and make connections with teachers to build use.
Students use Paper tutoring as much in school as outside school hours. Lunchtime and late afternoon are popular use blocks.
“I had given up on school,” said Adrian Sutton who had a 1.6 GPA as a sophomore at Rancho Verde High. His math teacher encouraged him to use Paper. “I didn’t think a tutor would understand the assignments going on at my school but when I tried, of course, they have been through it all before and have experience–that’s how I passed my junior math class.” He began to retake classes he failed and now has a 3.4 GPA.
Tutors are employees located in North America, some are full-time. Some tutors are in college, some are recent graduates working on advanced degrees and looking for flexible employment.
What happens when federal relief funds dry up? Cutler thinks 24/7 academic support is, in many places, a new community expectation and will be a permanent part of effective school models.
This post was originally published on Forbes.
This post is part of our New Pathways campaign sponsored by ASA, Stand Together and the Walton Family Foundation.
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