New Mexico Terminates $3 Million Contract with Tutoring Provider Paper

Staff Writer
New Mexico Cancels Contract With Tutoring Provider Paper, EdWeek Market Brief

New Mexico’s department of education has terminated its contract with the fast-growing virtual tutoring provider Paper, saying the performance of the company’s product fell short of expectations.

The tutoring support that Paper offered “is not providing the results in terms of engagement, support, or delivery of service to the state’s students,” said interim state Secretary of Education Mariana Padilla in a letter to the company last month.

The program was meant to provide tutoring in math, language arts, and science for pre-K-8 students in high-poverty schools, according to the original announcement in December.

However, Padilla wrote that the “pacing of enrollment and student engagement” did not meet expectations, concerns she said the department had previously expressed after the contract began.

States and school districts have invested heavily in academic interventions, including tutoring, since the pandemic.

The termination letter was written less than three months after the $3.3 million deal was signed.

In response, the company said its program of support for students needed time to take hold.

“For us, the partnership never really kicked off… we were still in the early implementation phases,” said Paper CEO Philip Cutler in an interview.

“Ultimately for us, what’s most important is that we support our students. And so if they want to go in different direction with things, that’s their prerogative. They know their community, they know what they want to be doing. We’re not going to stand in the way of that, of course.”

The startup, which is best known for its chat-based tutoring program that connects students with a tutor via messaging, has scaled quickly in recent years as demand for one-on-one interventions in districts boomed in the wake of remote learning.

But the company’s approach has faced skepticism from some, who point to research that shows regular, high-dosage, in-person tutoring built into the school day yields better academic results.

Cutler said Paper’s rollouts are successful when states and districts use its program as designed, but added that the company is “always learning” from its feedback from customers. 

“That’s the way that we operate our businesses,” Cutler added.We’re not perfect. We’re constantly improving.”

Turnover at State Level

Districts across the country have scrambled to find academic strategies to help them support students who fell behind academically during the pandemic, and tutoring is one such approach. School districts have been supported in that mission by a huge influx of federal stimulus spending.

But that money runs dry after next year — an event dubbed the “funding cliff” — and so K-12 systems that have taken up new products and services will have to figure out which ones are worth keeping in their regular budgets.

Cutler did not view New Mexico’s decision as being tied to funding limitations. Rather, he says it’s an example of a more typical scenario — a client trying to find a good fit.

“In general, every product that schools are investing in should be evaluated,” he said. “It’s just proper hygiene for any district or administration.”

In New Mexico, the goal of offering a statewide, free tutoring program that provides “strong, evidence-based learning support for students” remains the same, said Kelly Pearce, a spokesperson for the department of education.

The department is “fast-tracking a robust offering” and will announce more details soon, Pearce said in an email.

In recent weeks, the department has gone through changes in leadership and seen staff resignations since Cabinet Secretary Kurt Steinhaus retired in late January.

Paper will continue its contracts with individual districts in the state, Cutler said, including Las Cruces Public Schools, the second-largest district with more than 23,000 students. The company will also soon be launching a new contract with Albuquerque, the largest district in the state, he said.

The Montreal-based company, which reports serving 3 million students in the U.S. and Canada, has a statewide contract in Mississippi and a contract that covers a majority of the districts in Tennessee.

Cutler also recently announced an expansion of the company’s services into math skills, literacy, after-school programming, and college and career readiness, following two acquisitions.

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Image by Getty.

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