Group Wants More Tutoring Oversight

Published March 1, 2006

As the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) turns five years old, the tutoring industry is experiencing record growth, thanks in part to the sanctions schools face under the federal law when students fail to do well on standardized tests.

But some professional tutoring organizations say the new boom can be a cause for concern–mainly, decreased quality and a glut of untrained, uncertified tutors in an unregulated field. Without knowing what to look for, at best parents could waste money on an ineffective tutor, and at worst they could be putting their child in danger.

“We see things that are really horrible,” said Dr. Sandi Ayaz, executive director of the 15-year-old National Tutoring Association (NTA), a Florida-based tutor-certification group. “We see people who run tae kwan do studios who are getting [thousands of taxpayer dollars] per child and calling it tutoring–they say they’re tutoring anatomy or physiology. We see people who just test students, and then say, ‘You need to focus on this or that, and that’ll be $900.’

“The worst thing we see is the companies that are serving as clearinghouses for tutors that are being referred by and used by school districts but no one really knows who these people are. People can go to these Web sites, sign up to be a tutor, and no one has a clue,” Ayaz said.

Booming Business

According to a 2004 report from investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, tutoring is a $4.6 billion business, one that’s seen 12 to 15 percent growth annually under NCLB and is expected to continue at that rate over the next decade. Parents are realizing that not only are the public schools their children attend not making the grade, but competition for well-paying jobs in the workforce begins as early as preschool. As a result, more and more middle-income parents are willing to pay $20 to $45 per hour–or more–to give their kids an educational edge through tutoring.

Though many tutors are untrained, many also realize professional certification from organizations like the NTA or American Tutoring Association looks great on a resume and can help them command a higher hourly wage.

But from the calls she often gets, Ayaz says not every tutoring organization is willing to do what it takes to earn the credentials.

“There are companies that call us who have 2,500 people in their database who claim to be tutors, and want us to sign off on them, but we can’t. Who are these people?” Ayaz said. “They have tutors going to students’ homes where there is no adult in the house. We obviously absolutely don’t approve of that. They have tutors who have students come to their own homes alone, which is even more dangerous. They don’t have a clue about professional liability.”

Unclear Territory

With tutoring services clearly spanning a wide spectrum of quality and approaches, Ayaz said she’d like to see the federal government take a more active role in regulating the industry–because, in some ways, the federal government spawned the growth with NCLB. According to Eduventures, a Boston-based company that researches K-12 education, schools spent $250 million on tutoring in 2005 alone because of the law.

The federal Department of Education, however, said regulating tutoring services is each state’s responsibility.

“Everything we’ve done has been to defer to the states and monitor them, like we do for Title I compliance,” spokesperson Chad Colby said. “The state has a huge responsibility in all aspects of NCLB, and this is one of them. But we’re partners with them in that we expect them to do the right things for their students.”

Some Oversight

Calls to several state education boards went unreturned, but an Internet search revealed Florida has shut down several tutoring providers over the past few years for violating federal standards.

The Arizona board of education’s Web site says “tutors provided by the school must be certified by the principal to be ‘exceptionally well qualified’ in that subject–meaning, spokesman Doug Nick said, “if they’re teaching math, they have to know how to teach math, not be another kind of specialist.” The state keeps close tabs on tutoring agencies that use state funds to prepare students for the high-stakes graduation test known as AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards).

Differing Standards

Steve Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association (EIA), said a growing number of states are adopting his organization’s guidelines for Supplemental Education Services (SES) tutors–“seven or eight” have them so far. But the lack of federal regulation means there’s a hodgepodge of requirements, with some states setting the bar higher than others.

“I don’t disagree that tutors should have some level of academic and professional background, and we state very clearly what those minimum qualifications should be,” Pines said. “We say, if you want to hire a tutor, they should have a college degree and teaching certification. That’s what we think defines a professional tutor.”

To help defray the cost of criminal background checks, the EIA offers members a discounted rate of $35. More than that, however, Pines said it’s important for federally funded tutoring services to be able to determine how well they’re actually doing.

“We recommend hiring qualified tutors you can find on our Web site, who adhere to the code of conduct of EIA, have a track record of performance that can be documented, use approved methods, collect data on actual performance, [and] have an evaluation mechanism that can demonstrate how tutoring affects student achievement with some assessment tool,” Pines said. “It’s important to be able to pick out the differences between tutors and regular classrooms. Thirty to 40 hours of tutoring is a whole lot different than going to school every day, so you have to have a mechanism that’s sensitive enough to pick up the small, modest effects of tutoring.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

For more information about how to find a qualified tutor, see the recommendations issued by the NTA and EIA at the following links:

“What to Consider Before Hiring a Tutor,”

“Guidelines for Qualifications of the Tutor/Educational Service Provider (ESP), approved 3-2-05,”

News stories from Chicago addressing tutoring are available online at:

“Chicago Schoolchildren Left Behind,” CBS2 News Chicago, October 25, 2005,

“Chicago Tutoring Provider Accused of Ethics Violations,” October 26, 2005,