John Failla, CEO & Founder, Pearl

John Failla is the founder at Pearl, the first research-based education ecosystem that streamlines operations, reports actionable data, and improves outcomes for districts, state agencies, and organizations tutoring tomorrow’s workforce, today.


Amidst the national education crisis, tutoring has experienced a remarkable surge thanks to a generous influx of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars. It has fueled innovative approaches to tutoring that are yielding promising results. Yet, the horizon presents a pressing question: what happens when these “ESSER cliffs” hit and the funding takes a nosedive?

Having personally seen the impact of quality tutoring, as a mentee, a mentor and the founder of the first research-based tutoring platform, Pearl, I know that tutoring done right mitigates learning loss and isn’t going to be abandoned. Established in 1964, the Federal Work Study (FWS) program has been updated for today’s higher-education stakeholders with encouraging language around tutoring programs. The benefits to the FWS programs may do for tutoring far beyond what ESSER grants delivered. Here’s why:

100% of Federal Dollars for Tutoring

Each year, the Work-Study program pumps billions of dollars into providing part-time employment to help students finance the costs of postsecondary education. Remarkably, a mandated 7% of this vast pool is dedicated to community service efforts, a portion that is set to more than double to 15% in the next two years.

FWS funds typically only cover 75% of wages with the remaining 25% covered by the University. The federal share of compensation paid to university students employed as reading or mathematics tutors for children is 100%, as documented in the school’s accounting records. The full coverage of tutoring wages by FWS dollars affords tutoring programs the financial means to focus grant funding on much needed administrative improvements, expanded implementation, and critical research.

Public- Private Partnerships

The Biden administration has urged higher education institutions to allocate these funds towards tutoring programs, envisioning a powerful tool to bolster academic achievement nationwide.

In alignment with this vision, the National Partnership for Student Success (NPSS) has been established as a rallying coalition for these community-focused initiatives. Tapping into Work-Study funds allows universities to mobilize their students, supplying tutoring services to K-12 schools at a fraction of the conventional cost. These programs not only infuse the educational landscape with resources but also foster profound community connections and a potentially sustainable talent pipeline from universities to schools.

Tutoring as a Civic Duty

This model represents an exciting avenue for the future of tutoring, offering an economically viable, research backed high-impact solution with a nod towards strengthening community bonds and fostering future generations of educators. This is an opportunity to reimagine tutoring not as a band-aid solution, but as an enduring civic pillar of our educational ecosystem.

Tutoring Done Right = Relationships

Perhaps one of the most impactful benefits of these university-K-12 district partnerships stems from the relationships made and nurtured. Beyond increasing student learning and engagement, these tutors and students are closer in age to the K-12 students and inspire them to have a lasting relationship as mentor/mentee and even explore a career in higher-ed.

Tutoring has been, and continues to be, a common approach to tackling learning loss. Federal data shows that 56% of K-12 schools reported using high-impact tutoring and 36% of schools reported using other forms. Some school leaders say they use multiple kinds of tutoring. The FWS program provides higher education institutions with an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that K-12 students continue to have access to these essential learning services and relationships by expanding programs that place university students as tutors. And when students have access to advanced learning opportunities and can build relationships with those who can help them better understand their postsecondary options, the positive impacts – academic, social, economic, and more – cut across generations.

The toolbox to prevent learning loss is filled with meaningful resources. Combining federal dollars, philanthropy, and public-private partnerships with high-impact tutoring programs will create meaningful learning environments and lasting relationships that will empower students for generations to come. As ESSER grants come to an end, develop a plan to work with local universities and higher-education institutions in your community to implement and embrace FWS and everything it has to offer.

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