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Tutoring: Becoming Commonplace?


Q. It used to be that only the very rich and the very poor had tutors. For the former, it was to try to get the kid into an Ivy League college. For the latter, it was a government-supplied tutor to try to help the kid pass enough classes to graduate. But nowadays tutoring is big in the middle class, too. What gives?


Tutoring is suddenly a $4 billion business, with revenues increasing by 15% per year since 2001, industry spokesmen say. The ever-present emphasis on statewide testing, and the importance of standardized test scores on college admissions and scholarship decisions, in the face of record-setting numbers of children trying to get in to colleges, have opened the door for tutoring to become almost commonplace.


Even though it's costly - averaging around $20 an hour in small towns, to over $100 an hour in urban areas - parents may view an investment in tutoring as a good one. And it can be, if it will help Junior win a bigger financial aid package with higher test scores, and take some of the load off those huge college tuition bills.


Tutoring locations can be in your home or the tutor's home or office. Tutors come in all shapes and sizes: off-duty certified teachers . . . retired teachers working part-time . . . subject-matter experts . . . college students and high school students looking for extra income . . . the list is endless.


Academic reasons for the tutoring spike are rather discouraging, though: the more tutoring goes on, the more evident it is that things are not getting taught in the regular classroom that should be taught.


Some of this can be blamed on the decades-old failure of public schools to teach students to read using phonics-only instruction; obviously, excellent readers are not going to need outside tutoring help on down the road.


But since schools are so set on Whole Language philosophies in the early grades, you don't have to be a psychic to know that, years later, those same children are going to need help to learn the same amount through teaching and tutoring as past generations could on their own, by reading.


Teachers are expected to deliver more and more content as measured by the tests, whether there's time for it to sink in or not. Tutors can plug that gap, especially in areas such as math and science, in which classroom educators might not be very strong.


Meanwhile, since standardized tests usually omit content that requires writing skill, many schools are skimping on spelling, grammar, punctuation and other basics for writing. That has created opportunities for writing mentors, coaches and tutors to step in.


Students who want to get into top colleges, or be admitted to challenging majors and programs, feel a need to take a lot of Advanced Placement courses, and the homework may exceed the capabilities of their parents, so outside tutors can be hired to fill the bill.


And parents who are worried that their child may be "pigeonholed" into a vocational "track" at school, instead of a college-bound "track," and want great scores on those high-stakes tests, are signing kids up for tutors at an earlier and earlier age.


Should you arrange for some after-school or summertime tutoring? It's up to you. You could check with your local high school to find a nice, kind, honor student who might be looking for part-time work. Sometimes younger children respond better to someone closer to their own age, than a grown-up.



A word to the wise, though: work it out with your child whether to tell anyone he or she is being tutored; some kids are embarrassed about it. Be clear and tell your child exactly what skills the tutor will help the child build; otherwise, there's a tendency for the student to think he or she is permanently "dumb" and dependent on help for learning. Frame the tutoring as a temporary, goal-oriented solution so that it doesn't appear to be a permanent addition to the child's already-overstuffed schedule.


Homework: See the website of the National Tutoring Association,


By Susan Darst Williams Learning on the Go 03 2009


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