Is The Cost of Private Tutoring Worth the Money? It Depends

Millions of parents today are seeking private remedial help supplement their children's education, writes Missy Sullivan at Smart Money Magazine.

The "supplemental education" sector is now an estimated $5 billion business, 10 times as large as it was in 2001, according to Michael Sandler, founder of education research and consulting firm Eduventures.

The tutoring, called "supplemental educational services," is offered to children who attend a school with poor academic performance and a high level of poverty. Tutoring is sometimes free to parents and funded through federal grants.

Experts say the fastest-growing group of tutoring consumers is high school students, driven by cutthroat competition for college admission.

But how effective is private tutoring? Parents in the state of Ohio who are interested in picking a tutor for their children now can see how effective groups have been.

Columbus city officials have published effectiveness ratings for the more than 200 tutoring contractors that serve Ohio students through a federally required program, writes Jennifer Smith Richards at the Columbus Dispatch. More than half of the tutoring groups that Columbus evaluated were rated "not effective."

Such a list wasn't previously made public. The move is a first step in a state effort to overhaul the No Child Left Behind tutoring system.

"Although these evaluations have been performed by districts for years, they have not been easy for the public to see. We are changing that today," state Superintendent Stan Heffner said in a written release.

"Those scores show that this program needs dramatic change, and we are committed to making it happen."

Of the more than 200 tutoring contractors on the list:

20 were rated "not effective," including six that can't provide tutoring anymore.

89 scored as "needs improvement."

101 were considered "effective."

Federal law mandates that a provider be removed from the program if it has been deemed ineffective for two years, writes Smith Richards.

After an Education Department probe into the Columbus providers, Heffner ordered a statewide overhaul that will impose tougher standards on tutors, publicly report their performance and help districts oversee the contractors. All of the groups that tutor through the program will have to reapply before the 2012-13 school year to keep participating.

An editorial at the Baltimore Sun believes that Maryland should do better ensuring that private tutoring groups are held accountable for results:

"The Baltimore City school system took a crucial next step last year with a new teacher contract that will directly tie promotion and advancement to student outcomes. So it's mystifying that so little effort is being made to hold the private tutoring groups that are getting millions of dollars a year to help students from Baltimore's worst-performing schools accountable for the results they promise, or even to know whether they're making a difference."

Baltimore City has a high proportion of students from poor families and the school system has notably struggled with the progress requirements of NCLB. All of this contributes to the fact that the city has had to spend up to $55 million on private tutors over the last nine years.

The tutoring program was one of the more glaring flaws of NCLB, which U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now urgently asking Congress to revise, writes the editorial.

"Until that happens, however, Mr. Duncan says he will grant waivers to states that embrace the Obama administration's reform efforts. A waiver would give Maryland the opportunity not only to keep the majority of its schools in compliance with the law but also to demand greater accountability from the private tutoring groups it pays to help poor students succeed."

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