Is hiring a tutor for your child worth the money?

is hiring a teacher for your kid worth it?Anyone who has ever faced off with their child over a homework assignment knows the value of a tutor. I, personally, know rational, decent, intelligent folks who have been reduced to wild-eyed rants and nervous twitching (okay, maybe that was just me) in an attempt to help their kids with classwork, or explain educational concepts to a struggling child. It ain't pretty, and it explains why some parents will pay almost anything to hire a trained professional. Improved grades, increased understanding, higher test scores (Ivy leagues here we come!) and no more temper tantrums by either parent or child: priceless.

In fact, I think it explains why in spite of a national recession, the New York Times reports that "spending on tutors is growing at more than 5% a year," according to Steve Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association. While the growth has slowed since 2007, Pines said it still remains healthy in an otherwise anemic economy. The amount parents are willing to pay for tutors, however, has declined as families tighten their belts. Nationwide, the average rates paid to tutors range from $45 to $65 an hour, Pines told the Times.

Amy Becker, area director for in-home tutoring service, Club Z in Southern California, says she sees some folks cutting costs by reducing the length of their tutoring sessions, not eliminating them. But no matter which way you slice it, it's an expenditure that adds up. The big-money question remains, is it really worth it?

Of course, Dr. Mary Mokris, an education specialist for Kumon North America, thinks the investment is definitely worthwhile. As she points out, spending $90 to $120 per month, per subject at Kumon, is still less than the average monthly cable bill.
And a growing number of parents now view tutoring as an "essential investment," says Mokris. "They know that currently, children are living in a world which is more and more global and they want their children to be able to compete in the future and do whatever they would like to do," Mokris tells WalletPop.

Reasons to Hire a Tutor

Self-confidence in the classroom and, in later years, the workplace, was one of the reasons one Southern California mother sent her son to a tutor. Her child was having a tough time in third grade and was falling behind -- and losing confidence. She wanted him to get more individualized treatment than he'd receive in summer school so she hired a tutor. "They helped bring up his self-esteem by making him feel accomplished and showing him how hard he's working," she says. "It can be expensive, but for how he feels about himself, especially after a rough year and now getting ready to return to school, it truly is worth the money."

Hiring a tutor happens as often for a struggling child as for an advanced one, says Mokris. "The parents may [recognize] that a child is brilliant and needs some extra stimulation or has a particular interest in math," she says.

Tutoring is also used for kids who may have always received A's, but may not have the study skills required to navigate a new level. "[A]dvanced students have too much work to organize and master themselves," explains Becker. "They get overwhelmed and start to fall behind."

"I have had many tutors for the girls," says one Los Angeles-area university professor and mother of four. "When they were young, they needed extra help, for reading, writing, just learning to think critically. It was very helpful. When they were older, we had tutors for specific subjects: physics, math, English. This was in prep for SATs," she says.

How to Shop for a Tutor

"A tutor should be patient, structured and know how to add fun to the session," says Becker. In addition, she recommends that parents "look for someone who has good content knowledge and whose personality matches with the child's."

The tutor should also be willing to try various teaching methods in order to figure out the child's particular learning style. Once they hit upon that "[parents] should expect the child's confidence level to rise within a month," says Becker.

At Kumon, instructors are expected to be cheerleaders for the student, says Mokris."[T]hey need to work with the student and the family to try and ensure that the student is working at the 'just right' level." Good communication between the tutor, the teacher at school, the family and the child is also critical, she says. And tutors should be in it for the long haul. "It takes someone who sees the big picture."

Measuring Results Is an Inexact Science

In terms of results, however, Mokris cautions patience. The goal of tutoring, "shouldn't be about the very next task, or even the standardized test for that year, all of which are just snapshots," she says. "My measure is what happens to a child in the future, if the child is able to do whatever they want to do, then it's a success."

According to Becker, the time it takes parents and students to begin to see academic results depends on the subject matter. A student working (at least) two hours a week with a tutor should see improvement within three months, "at the latest," she says. A successful tutoring program will also help students complete their homework more quickly, she says. Parents may also observe their child looking forward to the tutoring sessions, "maybe organizing their pens and pencils while waiting for the tutor to arrive" and discussing the answers they got right at school, instead of the answers they missed.

But perhaps the ultimate test of a successful tutoring relationship is "when the student doesn't need them anymore," says Becker.

Of course, there are always issues that tutoring alone can't solve. "Sometimes, students are successful in tutoring but have other emotional issues and take it out by not turning in homework, purposefully not passing tests, or not showing up to school to take this case, tutoring can only do so much," says Becker. But for all of those students with issues that go beyond the classroom, there are plenty more kids who just need a little extra guidance and confidence.

One student came to Club Z because she was at risk of being held back a grade. "Our tutor, Bette, worked with her through the spring and summer," says Becker. The child was allowed to move on to the next grade where she flourished. "She just needed someone to re-explain what she was being taught and to give her extra practice in the subject."

How do you put a price on that?
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