How to choose?


Nine tips to finding the right tutor By Dan Weissmann :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Chicago Parent file photo Tierra Florence gets help with her math work from Ashley Leikam, a student at Dominican University in River Forest.

Experts say there is practically no independent research evaluating tutoring companies or approaches in the private market.

Companies such as Sylvan Learning Center hire researchers to evaluate their programs, but those studies don't compare results with those of other companies or approaches-or to no tutoring at all-and that omission makes the results less conclusive. "In order to be able to tell if an intervention is effective, you have to have a control group," points out Barbara Wasik, a researcher at Johns-Hopkins University who has monitored research on tutoring.

Enter Edward Gordon, who started tutoring in 1968 to put himself through college, and ended up making a career of it, building his company, Imperial Tutoring, into a network of more than 400 part-time tutors. His 2002 book TutorQuest: Finding Effective Tutoring for Children and Adults includes a lengthy checklist for parents checking out a tutoring service.

Not surprisingly, Gordon favors operations like the one he ran-staffed by certified teachers with extensive training, supervision and curricular support from a central office-but his checklist provides some common-sense reminders, whether you're talking to Sylvan or to a graduate student working his way through school. In short, Gordon advises parents to: • Get the basics. How long has the organization or tutor been in business and how many people have been served?

• Get references. Check with local schools; ask to speak with other clients.

• Check credentials. Find out what percentage-if any-of the tutors are certified teachers. What expertise do they have in the subjects they're teaching? Who supervises the work?

• Check out the program itself. How are a child's needs assessed? Is the approach tailored for an individual student? Will your child get one-on-one help, or does one tutor work with multiple students? Will your scheduled be accommodated?

• Read the fine print. If you're signing a contract, make sure all the terms are clear. If there's a guarantee, does it specify how it measures success?

• Figure out the fees up front. How much does the service cost per hour and how many hours should you expect to need? Ask what's not included in the basic cost, such as materials or special testing.

• Ask what reports and other communication you'll get. Can you get reports both during and after the tutoring program? Will the tutor also report back to your child's teacher or go to a conference at school?

• Ask how the program handles questions or complaints. And find out what the refund policy is, in case you decide to cancel.

• Check out the environment. Unless the tutoring is happening at your kitchen table, take a look around at the tutor's workspace to make sure it's a place you'll feel good about leaving your child. Take a peek in the restrooms to make sure they're clean. And ask how tutors are screened to prevent child abuse.



Dan Weissmann is a writer in Chicago and a frequent contributor to Chicago Parent.



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