BROW FURROWED IN CONCENTRAtion, Christian Quintana whips a sparkling gold pencil through page after page of math problems. At intervals, he glances up at a large digital clock, then dives back into his work: 40 ... 60 ... 100 problems complete. He pauses to nudge his glasses higher on his nose, then scribbles down answers to 30 more questions. Two minutes pass: 160 problems ... 180 ... done! He notes the time: 3:41 p.m. Sixteen minutes to solve 200 problems.
A high-schooler racing the clock for SATs? No, the boy with the crewcut and yellow Pokemon T-shirt is only 7 years old. But Christian wasn't always a math whiz. That happened over the summer at a Kumon Learning Center in San Diego, Calif.
Kumon is both a Japanese learning method and a franchised tutoring program -just one kind of tutoring in a multibillion-dollar industry that has sprung up over the past decade in response to parental demand for improved K-12 education.
Fueling the demand for tutoring is a new emphasis on high-stakes assessment tests, dissatisfaction with public schools, and, in some cases, working parents who have more money than time. The school-choice movement also factors in, as education alternatives have emerged as a constant thread in the national dialogue. Finally, some parents who seek tutoring are rebelling against an entertainment-centric culture, and engaging their kids instead in activities that deliver an academic edge.
That's the case with Adam Quintana, who enrolled his son Christian in Kumon earlier this year. During first grade, Christian earned excellent marks at Good Shepherd Catholic School in northern San Diego. But Mr. Quintana didn't want him lounging in front of the TV all summer. So in addition to swimming lessons, he signed Christian up for Kumon, a learning method Mr. Quintana's nieces and nephews had practiced for years.
"I wanted to give him a chance to be more advanced in school.... I want my son to focus on his studies," said Mr. Quintana, who works in manufacturing.
That's fine with Christian, who comes to Kumon on Tuesday and Friday afternoons and says it's "kind of fun." He especially likes the prizes he earns: "Stickers, you know, gumballs, you know, and stamps ... you know, with aliens and meteors on them." Christian figures Kumon will help him be one of the best students in his second-grade class this year-except maybe for his academic arch rival Tina, 7, who "can read fast, write fast, and knows all the hard words."
Christian sighs and rolls his eyes toward heaven: "I would dream of being like her."
His dream may come true: Studying under 16-year Kumon instructor and franchise owner Kayoko Barr, who formerly taught public school in Japan, Christian has already increased both his computing speed and accuracy.
Kumon is part of the "learning center" segment of the tutoring industry. While learning centers such as Kaplan, Huntington, and Sylvan are the fastest-growing segment of the business, they teach only 3 percent to 6 percent of all students who receive tutoring, according to EduVentures, a Wisconsin research and publishing firm serving the for-profit education industry. About a third of all tutoring is conducted by individual teachers, or by small tutoring practices composed of groups of teachers. Volunteer and nonprofit tutors provide another 30 percent of tutoring, with the balance provided by peers.
Today, Americans spend between $5 billion and $8 billion on tutoring, according to TutorQuest, a guide to tutor selection. "There is a growing public recognition among parents of the efficacy of tutoring," said Rick Bavaria, vice president for education at Sylvan Learning Centers. "The U.S. is catching up with Asian countries, where tutoring has been a regular fact of academic life for generations."
Tutoring itself has been around for centuries. Plato tutored Aristotle. During the European Renaissance, the tutoring profession blossomed amid the general movement toward fulfilling "human potential." In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, peer tutoring emerged as a way for institutions to provide quality education to poorer children whose parents couldn't afford paid instruction. In Europe, some families still hire governesses to tutor their children.
Today, the bulk of tutoring in the United States is remedial, according to TutorQuest author Edward E. Gordon. Sometimes a child suffers from a clinical learning disability, he said. But more often the child is loosely called an 'underachiever' or a 'slow learner,' or has simply fallen behind in a large-group classroom setting. One-to-one tutoring, said Mr. Gordon, is often the best way to help diagnose and correct such problems.
Mart'n Navarreti is a good example. The Sacramento 13-year-old had earned A's and B's all the way through the sixth grade. But when he hit seventh-grade pre-algebra last year, he hit a wall. "Mart'n would come home very, very upset," his mother Darline told WORLD. "On every report card it would say, 'Mart'n is struggling with his homework.' Sometimes he came home crying. It was breaking my heart."
Mart'n said it seemed his classroom math teacher would mark his answers wrong, but did not take time to help him see where he was making mistakes as he worked through the problems. An after-school program staffed with college-age tutors only confused Mart'n more. Finally Ms. Navarreti called T.E.A.M. Ed. Services, a Sacramento tutoring firm founded by Shannon Maveety, a professor of teacher education at National University.
After only a few sessions with Ms. Maveety, "Mart'n just lit up," Ms. Navarreti said. "He felt so confident and started smiling again. He wasn't coming home from school upset every day." Tutoring continued through the summer, but today Mart'n feels ready to tackle eighth-grade algebra on his own.
Ms. Maveety isn't sorry she worked herself out of a job. "When parents sign up, we tell them we appreciate their business, but we want to get them to the point where they don't need us anymore. This is one of those success stories."
Less successful is the Bush administration's attempt to connect kids in failing schools with private-sector tutors. Under the president's No Child Left Behind program, 2003 was to be the first year when school districts would be required to use federal Title I funds to pay for "supplemental services"-among them, outside tutoring for children in failing schools.
Tutor.com, a leading online tutoring service, is approved in 25 states to receive Title I money for tutoring such students. But to date, "the fiscal impact has been almost negligible," said chief executive officer George Cigale. "While some school districts see that they need outside help and are welcoming us with open arms, many districts ... see this as a competitive use of funds, instead of as a way to help teachers."
Mr. Cigale blames, in part, a lack of implementation planning at the federal level. First, states must evaluate and approve individual tutoring services. Then each service must contract separately with hundreds of separate school districts. Then schools must inform parents of their choices, and parents must choose a tutoring service that meets their needs.
But there is no standard process by which all of this takes place. "What you've got is thousands of school districts reinventing the wheel thousands of times, instead of using a standard contract," Mr. Cigale said. "When you get into the details of how districts implement this program, you realize it will take years for this to run smoothly."
Such bureaucratic tangles are one reason many parents steer clear of public schools and opt instead for home education. But like their public-school counterparts, homeschoolers also are taking advantage of tutoring services. Many parents find that they're not equipped to teach certain subjects at home (chemistry, for example), or that they don't have time to adequately learn advanced high-school subjects, such as Spanish and calculus, before attempting to teach them to their kids.
Roger and Cassie Annis faced that problem with advanced high-school math. The St. Johns, Mich., couple (he's a family practice physician; she calls herself "a lawyer in my former life") seven years ago began homeschooling their three daughters. The Annises team-taught, with mom handling arts and humanities, and dad teaching math and science after he got home from seeing patients.
But as math studies grew more advanced for their 16-year-old twins Erica and Erin, now high-school juniors, teaching required more prep time-time Dr. Annis didn't have since he was running his practice. Now Erica, Erin, and Aubrey, the Annises' eighth-grader, see a math tutor at Teenworks, a tutoring firm for homeschoolers in Lansing, Mich.
Wanda Burdick, a former public-school teacher and the wife of a dairy farmer, launched Teenworks in the mid-1980s after her son J.R., then 12, convinced her that since dad stayed home with the cows, she should stay home and take care of J.R.'s education. Once she began homeschooling her own son, she noticed that many parents needed tutors for subjects they didn't feel qualified to teach. Today, Teenworks tutors reach about 600 kids in grades five through 12. A new K-4 program is also picking up steam.
The Annises are pleased with Teenworks' academics, but they especially appreciate the staff's biblical worldview. Mrs. Annis said, "The tutors have a good sort of mentoring relationship with the kids. It's wonderful to have the girls interact with Christian tutors who love what they teach."