By ELLEN MILLER
The Indianapolis Star
You won't find "tutor" on any list of recommended school supplies, but parents increasingly are seeking additional academic help for their kids.
Tutoring for elementary-, middle- or high-school students is on the rise. Some commercial learning centers are even offering pre-kindergarten programs.
Because overburdened schools can't meet the needs of all students, it is inevitable that families will hire extra help, says Richard Bavaria, vice president for education at Sylvan Learning Center, a national chain.
"Not only do schools teach the basics, but also values, multicultural education, violence reduction, peer mediation. But we haven't changed the number of hours children go to school or the number of days they go in the year," says Bavaria.
Students can find help with homework, academic goals or study skills from a variety of sources, including peers or adults in school and volunteer programs, private tutors who often are retired or moonlighting teachers, and commercial centers such as Sylvan.
Because most tutoring is done privately, it's not clear how many children are getting helped.
"It's in the hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million. We know it's a large number and growing every year," says Thomas Redicks, president of the Indianapolis-based National Tutoring Association.
In 2003, tutoring was a $4 billion business, with the market expected to be $4.56 billion this year and $5.2 billion in 2005, The New York Times reported in May.
While poor grades and other evidence of student struggle are the main reasons parents and children seek tutoring, another is the desire of successful students to get or maintain an academic edge.
Bavaria says students' desire to move ahead - rather than simply catch up - is part of why Sylvan has added 400 centers in just the last six years, for a total of 1,050.
"People are recognizing that tutoring is an important part of the education process," he says. "In Asia, it's just a given that children will have tutoring after school, and it's very common in Europe."
Ideally, a tutor works one-on-one with a student, and aims to bring the child to a point where the teacher is unneeded, says Redicks.
Tutors approach their work in different ways.
Many begin by testing a child to determine weak areas and then build a program to fill the gaps.
Redicks endorses a method that focuses on asking the child what he or she wants to accomplish, with the tutor continually asking questions to spark a child's thinking and independent learning.
To find a tutor, talk to teachers, parents, administrators and public librarians.
"There are so many tutors at the libraries. I've been meeting students at libraries for 10 years, and I've seen the numbers increase drastically," says Elaine Beaty, a private math tutor in Noblesville, Ind.
She says many tutors prefer library settings because they're safe and open environments that are ideally suited to academic pursuits.
But tutoring can occur in many places, including school learning centers, community centers and churches or the kitchen table.
Margaret Crisp, a private tutor, has transformed her garage into a learning center. On pleasant summer mornings and school-year afternoons, Crisp opens the garage door, revealing elementary-school-age children to high-schoolers, working independently on math and reading skills under her supervision.
Private tutoring can start at about $40 an hour, but in many schools and communities, free options are available. Parents should check with their children's teachers or school administrators.
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