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Tutoring Company with Chinese Ties Hits Back at Parents Group’s Bid to ‘Destroy’ It

<Ƶ class="subtitle">Tutor.com sends cease-and-desist letter to Parents Defending Education amid group's claims that the service is vulnerable to Beijing’s control.
Parents Defending Education Executive Director Nicole Neily appears on Real America’s Voice, saying Tutor.com’s Chinese ties are “something that just seemed to have slipped past the goalies.” (Screen capture)

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Updated

A U.S.-based tutoring company on Tuesday pushed back against a conservative campaign to “destroy” it due to security fears over its Chinese owner.

In a posted online, said the parents’ rights group in recent months has misrepresented its operations, falsely claiming it has ties to the Chinese government. The company, based in New York, said the parents’ group is trying to persuade lawmakers and others that Tutor.com “is somehow a puppet of the Chinese government and a threat to national security,” according to the letter. 

Founded two decades ago, Tutor.com was acquired in 2022 by , a Beijing-based investment firm in Hong Kong, Singapore and Palo Alto, Calif. In the letter to attorneys representing Parents Defending Education, the company said the parents’ group has chosen to portray Tutor.com “as a stalking horse to advance the advocacy group’s broader political agenda.”

The effort by Parents Defending Education both echoes and influences a larger one by lawmakers nationwide to raise security concerns about companies linked to China, including fears that they could be compelled to share student data with the Chinese government.

But John Calvello, Tutor.com’s spokesperson and chief institutional officer, said the fears are misplaced.

“First and foremost, it’s important to say: We are an American company,” he said in an interview. “I want to be very clear about that. And again, as an American company, you have to abide by all U.S laws and regulations.”

John Calvello

Tutor.com, Calvello said, “cannot be compelled to share data” with anyone.

He noted that it had recently undergone a voluntary review by the federal , which found, in his words, “no unresolved national security concerns.”

He also said the company has a designated security officer approved by the U.S. government to ensure data security compliance. And he said all of Tutor.com’s data is housed in the United States. 

According to the watchdog site , states, school districts, colleges and even the Pentagon have spent more than $35 million on contracts with Tutor.com over the past decade. Among the largest: nearly $1.6 million in 2015 for online homework tutoring for the U.S. Defense Department and $1.1 million in 2022 for tutoring at California State East Bay.

Following the pandemic, state and school district spending on Tutor.com, as with other tutoring providers, skyrocketed. In December, the New Hampshire Department of Education said it would through Tutor.com to every student in fourth- through twelfth grades, as well as to those prepping for GED exams. 

But many lawmakers have also sought to minimize China’s influence in both K-12 and higher education.

After Congress in 2018 targeted the nearly 100 Confucius Institutes on U.S. college campuses, restricting federal funding at schools with programs, their number dropped to fewer than five, according to a 2023 U.S. Government Accountability Office . 

In 2024, lawmakers are seeking to ban TikTok due to the social media application’s Chinese ownership. Primavera is a minority investor in ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. ByteDance also owns the AI-powered homework helper .

But Tutor.com has been the subject of much of the scrutiny around student data. In February, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, Lloyd Austin, saying the Pentagon’s relationship with Tutor.com is “ill-advised, reckless, and a danger to U.S. national security.”

Cotton said the Pentagon should end its dealings with the company, suggesting that students’ personal data, such as location, IP addresses and the contents of tutoring sessions, could be released to the Chinese government. He said the U.S. is “paying to expose our military and their children’s private information to the Chinese Communist Party.”

In March, Manny Diaz, Jr., Florida’s commissioner of education, to public K-12 and higher education leaders statewide, saying Tutor.com’s ties to “foreign countries of concern” may compromise student data privacy. Diaz said the State Board of Education had adopted rules to protect student data “to keep it out of the hands of bad actors,” adding that school districts, charter schools and state colleges “must take the necessary steps to protect their students from nefarious foreign actors such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

And last month, 13 lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Michigan, to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, saying Tutor.com “poses a significant national security threat.” They asked what measures the department had taken to assess “the potential national security risks associated with Tutor.com’s relationship.”

A spokesperson for Cardona did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Neily recently that Tutor.com’s Chinese ties are “something that just seemed to have slipped past the goalies.”

Nicole Neily appears on Real America’s Voice (Screen capture)

During a segment on the company, the show’s host alleged that providers like Tutor.com can gather data from even the youngest students and “adapt what they need to teach these kids to make sure they’re good, functional little robots.” He asked Neily, “Is that the plan?” 

She replied, “That very much seems to be the plan,” adding, “Let’s be honest, this data is not being secured by America’s best and brightest.”

Neily did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tutor.com’s Calvello said much of the alarm around the company’s Chinese ties stems from the parents’ group, which he said has been “promoting falsehoods” that lawmakers and others have amplified. As a result, he said, a few school districts have been under pressure to drop the service, with critics quoting the parents’ group’s materials. 

“We’re prepared to pursue legal avenues to protect our reputation and operations from false claims,” he said.

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