The supplemental education business is a $2 billion, growing industry that promises to help your child succeed. So the latest issue of Smart Money magazine has a checklist of things to look out for when hiring tutors. Jack Otter, the article's editor, visits The Early Show on Monday to offer practical tips.
Here are five of the biggest issues from this list:
"We don't have to stick to any educational standards."
While schools must now meet federally mandated standards, these criteria don't apply to supplemental education companies.
So to get the best help possible, get a reliable referal - say a favorite teacher at your child's school - then focus on experience and credentials. Ask learning centers where they find tutors and if they do background checks; if tutors are certified teachers, that's a great sign. Then get references. Ask past clients if the child's grades went up, if the tutor was reliable, and if the child and tutor had good rapport.
"Our rates aren't always pinned to quality."
Costs for tutoring can vary widly, depending on whether your child gets private or group tutoring, and whether he receives the tutoring at home or at a center.
In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $35 to $65 an hour for good tutoring. Costs can multiply if you're looking for specialized tutoring or live in a big city such as Boston or New York. In Boston the average rate is $50 to $125, whereas in New York City it can be as much as $400 an hour.
Beware of centers that require a minimum purchase up front, and of cancellation policies.
Remember that just because one place is more expensive than other does not mean it is better. It goes back to the first point: If you've done your homework and found a great tutor, that should dictate how much you pay, not just an organization's name.
"We can't handle learning disabilities."
Few tutoring centers are equipped to handle students with actual disabilities such as dyslexia or even mild developmental disorders, but parents may seek them anyway, to diagnose or even fix a problem the child is experiencing in school.
While certain tutors may be adept at recognizing blocks in a child's learning process, it's not a tutor's place to diagnose a disability. If you suspect your child has a problem, ask your pediatrician for a referral.
Now, if your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability, you should seek a tutor with a special education credential, not just a regular tutor. So remember to ask a tutoring center if it has tutors with a special education degree.
"Your kid won't always have the same tutor."
A good rapport is important, but what many learning centers fail to tell you is that your child won't always have the same tutor. So even if you sign up for one-on-one tutoring, it is very likely that your child can end up with a different tutor each session.
To increase your child's chances of success, let the center director know you want a specific tutor and ask how best to accomodate such scheduling.
"Our guarantees are worthless."
If you're going to sink potentially thousands of dollars into tutoring for your child, you want some assurance that it will pay off. Some companies are happy to oblige. For example, Sylvan Learning Center guarantees that students will improve at least the equivilant of one full grade-level in reading or basic math skills after 36-hours of instruction, or your get an additional 12 hours free. But be careful because, according to Sylvan's Web site, not all locations participate in the guarantee.
Indeed, experts say that guarantees, and even vague promises, shouldn't carry too much weight.
So a better way to gauge success is to set specific goals, such as improving study habits.