Report cards mean business for Federal Way private tutors

When report cards are bad, business is good for private tutors.

Even in the recession, the private tutoring industry is growing. This booming sector does an estimated $5 billion in business nationwide — 10 times more than in 2001, according to

Private tutors typically assist with reading, math, study skills and exam preparation. Rates and contracts differ among franchises. Some offer scholarships to low-income students for tuition, which sometimes equates to a monthly car payment.

Policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act help drive demand for supplemental education services, according to market research company Global Industry Analysts. Parents are willing to pay tuition for private tutors because the path to a better report card is often seen as a non-discretionary expense.

At least two Federal Way tutoring businesses report an uptick in clients when report cards arrive. Another contributing factor: parental concerns over the standards-based education and grading policies in Federal Way schools. Some blame the controversial Federal Way policies for failing grades and lower test scores. Others say the policies challenge students to meet core expectations.

The granddaddy of private tutors is Sylvan Learning, which has 27 franchises in the region, including Federal Way. Typical clients are students in grades four through nine who have fallen behind in reading or math. The service also appeals to students who wish to sharpen study skills or learn test-taking tips for college entrance exams. Students work with Sylvan teachers for an hour at a time, two to three times a week for three to nine months.

What is the return on investment? Sylvan guarantees that students will move up one grade level within 36 hours of instruction. This results in extra confidence that transforms students, said Morgan Griffith, center director for the Federal Way branch.

One of Sylvan's goals is to reverse the domino effect of falling behind. In math, for example, each progression builds upon an overall foundation. If there are holes in the foundation, those deficiencies eventually catch up to students. As confidence wanes, so does the student's motivation for working to improve in the subject.

"We focus more on fundamentals… Yes, we're teaching skills, but as we teach skills, we boost confidence," Griffith said, noting Sylvan's seminars and other efforts to include parents in the process. "Parents who understand how to help their children will help hold them accountable."

The Tutoring Center's branch in Federal Way offers one-to-one instruction with a "rotational" approach to learning, geared toward strengthening concentration spans.

The center is also busy this time of year, following the release of the first semester's report cards. Along with added enrollment, center director Greg Franklin said he's fielding more questions from Federal Way parents on the school district's new "power standards" grading system. This illustrates an area where private tutors can make a difference in the community, he said.

"We also understand these students are going to be left further behind if there isn't a community partnership to fill in the gaps," Franklin said.

Franklin agrees that a key component to academic success is the ripple effect of confidence — especially when it comes to reading.

"One young man was always in trouble at school. He couldn't follow along with the teacher, so he'd act out and be a clown," Franklin said, noting that the student now reads at grade level, much to the satisfaction of his teachers. "All we're doing is helping this kid read at grade level so he doesn't feel so stupid. If you are behind everybody else, it's incredibly damaging to self-esteem."


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