Online learning may have kept millions of kids from getting sick with Covid, but that safety may have come at a price: their education.
High-school students lost, on average, more than three months’ worth of instruction in reading, math, and science, according to Education Week. Elementary students were behind an average of five months in math and four in reading at the end of the 2020–21 school year, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Company. More than a million young children missed out on pre-K and kindergarten altogether, losing ground on early milestones in reading and math.
The struggles caused by remote learning have sparked a tutor-for-hire frenzy, with parents lining up professionals to keep their kids from falling further behind. Kathy McIntosh, founder of Capital Learners Education Services, says Covid created an unprecedented need: “I think parents and educators are now seeing the impact that the pandemic has had on students, both emotionally and academically.”
Finding someone qualified to help with homework while keeping your child engaged can be tricky. Here’s what industry experts and educators say parents should consider.
Where to Find a Tutor
Asking friends and family for recommendations is a good start, but some parents have turned to social media to expand their search. Meghan Meyers spent months looking for someone near Leesburg who could help her preschool-age twins with reading and phonics, before finally finding success in a Facebook group. However, even there, she says “there was a whole scramble, and there wasn’t a lot of availability. I would get a couple of people who said they were interested, but some of them were either no-shows or just didn’t follow through.”
Your school district or a university or learning center is another good resource. Many high-school and college students tutor younger kids as a side gig, and nonprofits such as the DC Tutoring & Mentoring Initiative and CityTutor DC have formed coalitions to provide free academic help for public-school students. You can also search for trained and certified professionals through the National Tutoring Association’s online database.
What to Look For in a Tutor
Before starting the search, McIntosh recommends that parents reach out to their child’s teacher to identify specific areas in which the student may need support. It’s also a good idea to check out the tutor’s credentials to make sure the person is the right fit. For example, you may want someone who has strong subject-area knowledge or experience working with young kids.
Some tutoring services are continuing to offer online sessions, so parents might consider which mode would work best for their child. “I encourage in-person sessions for younger students because of their attention spans,” McIntosh says. “But there is still a lot of demand for Zoom.”
The best tutors don’t focus on one skill but on increasing confidence.
Think, as well, about whether your child would learn better alone or in a small pod of peers—an option often offered at a learning center such as Marks Education or the Great Escape Tutoring Center.
The best tutors don’t focus just on improving one specific skill set but on increasing a student’s confidence in learning, says Community of Teachers founder Joshua Faden: “When kids build up this myth of ‘I can’t do something,’ it takes a lot of energy to rewire their brain to actually think about how to overcome their challenges.” Helping students gain the perseverance and endurance to approach learning hurdles with excitement is a key part of ensuring that they get the most from their education.
Which Tutors Are Most in Demand?
Because of the decline in reading and math skills during the pandemic, there’s been a high demand for tutors in those subjects. McIntosh received more than 50 requests in a single week after Covid hit. “We didn’t have the capacity for that,” she says, “so I had to hire to meet the demand.” Now more tutors are available, including many trained in online tutoring.
One need that’s still hard to fulfill: tutors for students with learning disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD. The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that 20 percent of children in the United States have learning and attention issues, yet few teachers are trained to work with them.
How Much Does a Tutor Cost?
Parents in the Washington area can expect to pay, on average, $25 to $80 an hour for a private tutor, according to Tutors.com. Prices vary based on factors such as location, subject, and experience. A high-school student may offer basic math help for as little as $10 an hour, while experienced professionals can charge $200 an hour for test prep, programs for kids with learning disorders, and other specialized services. Some people charge more for in-person versus online sessions.
There are quite a few free options, too. Besides free tutoring from the nonprofits mentioned previously, smaller agencies such as DC College Counseling have created pro bono programs for underserved students in the region. Colleen Paparella, the company’s founder, usually charges $200 to $400 a session for academic coaching and help with essay writing, but she offers those services free for some students in Fairfax County.
Paparella recommends that parents hire a tutor at the first sign of struggle. “Don’t wait for the problem to worsen,” she says. “It can be hard for these kids to dig themselves out of holes, and we see that a lot.”
This article appears in the October 2022 issue of Washingtonian.