Business is hopping for Club Z! In-Home Tutoring Services Inc. Since opening the one-on-one tutoring business in 2011, co-owner Kevin Baker said he has seen growth every year.
“Business has grown on average 20%-22% a year since our inception,” he said, declining to disclose annual revenue. “Some years we’re softer than others, but our biggest year was 38%.”
Baker said he and his wife, Leisha, who co-own the franchise, try to maintain a crew of 55-60 tutors who work with students individually, usually in the students’ homes. He described 2019 as a monster year – “way, way above normal,” he said – and things have normalized since then, but growth is the norm for Club Z.
“Sometimes it’s growth in categories,” Baker said, though he acknowledged some categories also dip. A recent example is ACT test prep, which went away almost entirely in 2020.
Baker said Club Z’s hourly rates are $42-$55, and there are no long-term contracts; services are offered month to month. He added that Club Z does not use a standard curriculum, but instead works with the student’s own classwork, even going so far as to obtain permission to discuss their specific needs with teachers.
Club Z serves 100-125 students per month, on average, Baker said.
The nonprofit Ozarks Literacy Council, which provides free tutoring in reading for people of all ages, is also seeing a lot of need for its services – so much so that there are about 30 people on the waiting list, hoping to be matched with one of the 97 tutors.
“That’s higher than it’s ever been,” said Executive Director Amy McGee Jardell, noting the council serves 875 elementary students, 780 preschoolers and 120 other learners.
Jardell said students are behind.
“Most of what we have are new school-age children who are at least six months behind, and sometimes more than that,” she said.
Jardell thinks the pause in in-person education from the pandemic continues to take a toll on children, and part of the reason may be a more relaxed attitude among families.
“I think there’s a changed attitude from caregivers as well,” she said.
Some families got out of the habit of taking kids to school and of doing homework as a routine part of the day.
“It’s almost like it’s a lesser priority because they didn’t go to school for so many months,” Jardell said. “They figure they’re doing OK. But they’re not doing OK. Many of them are behind.”
Jardell said educators are doing everything they can to help children catch up, and children don’t have any choices over the resources they have to work with.
“It’s up to us as caregivers, the community, organizations, churches, schools, to help them,” she said. “It takes a village.”
Industry on the move
A study by research firm Technavio predicts a nearly 10% annual growth rate for the private tutoring industry in the United States between 2023 and 2027, with potential growth to $20.5 billion. Technavio attributes the growth of tutoring to an increased emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and its focus on practical, hands-on learning. The study notes the U.S. Department of Commerce has predicted STEM-related fields to grow faster than non-STEM jobs during the forecast period.
Parents who use tutoring services for their children may have competition on their mind, whether that’s the scramble for grades or the eventual scramble for jobs. Club Z offers help with standardized test preparation and college entrance essays. The local franchise of Sylvan Learning Center does, too, and also helps students prepare for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, for a military career, and the High School Equivalency Test, which is equivalent to a high school diploma.
Kristen Fischer, co-owner of Sylvan Learning Center with her husband Chris, said her company is not currently experiencing the same growth reported elsewhere.
“We are having a very weird year,” she said.
Fischer said enrollment is “quite down” compared with 2020 and 2021, when she said she saw a huge influx in business. She declined to disclose revenue figures.
“Parents were worried about their kids having missed school,” she said. “Then 2022 and 2023 are like … I wouldn’t say crickets, but compared to the middle of 2020 and all of 2021, we’re seeing very different enrollment scenarios.”
The economy may be a reason for the slow business, Fischer said.
“It’s hard to make these kind of large monetary decisions if they know other things might come along or come up,” she said.
Tutoring costs $50-$70 per hour and usually occurs in small groups – typically a certified educator working with three students. Sylvan has seven instructors in addition to a director of education and Fischer, who also tutors.
Students come for one or two hours, depending on factors such as age, and they may come multiple times during a week.
“Private instruction is great, but with us, the kids know that their peers are also having those same struggles,” she said. “It builds confidence and educational independence, knowing other kids are having a lot of the same struggles.”
Fischer said in some situations, kids are behind because of lost time during the pandemic, but that’s not the whole story.
“Something was happening long before COVID happened, but COVID gets blamed for it,” she said. “We have a lot of younger kiddos that weren’t even in school during COVID – they’re in kindergarten or first grade, and we’re seeing reading concerns.”
Sylvan’s method relies on assessment of children to pinpoint every skill they have not yet mastered.
“I call it the Swiss cheese,” Fischer said. “There are all these holes. They’re COVID related, or something else has come into play for them that has caused reading discrepancies.”
As a result, they often struggle in math, Fischer said.
“It does affect math, especially as they hit second and third grades, because of word problems and not being able to read directions,” she said.
Adding to the problem is the fact that math is taught differently today than it was when many parents were in school, and many parents find they need help to reach their students in a way that matches classroom learning, Fischer said.
Help at school
Springfield Public Schools offers intervention services for students who qualify. This year, the district is using a purchased curriculum called Voyager for grades K-6, according to Nicole Holt, SPS deputy superintendent of academics.
Students receive a letter inviting them to participate in the afterschool program, and this year 1,497 were invited to Voyager reading tutoring while 1,532 were invited to Voyager math, the district reported.
Holt said Voyager prioritizes reading, since it impacts so many areas of learning.
Holt said academic literature finds third-grade reading proficiency is a huge factor in setting the trajectory of a student’s life.
“This is really about, and has always been about, early intervention,” she said.
Asked if student deficits are rooted in pandemic-era interruptions, Holt said SPS is focusing its energies on students’ current needs instead of looking to the past.
“We’re utilizing the data in front of us and making decisions on where the kids are. That’s what we have always done,” she said.
Nationally, math and reading skills decreased from 2019 for fourth graders and eighth graders, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress reported 25% of fourth-grade students were below basic math skills, down six percentage points from 2019.
The NAEP found that in Missouri, fourth and eighth grade students’ performance in reading and math slipped in 2022 compared with 2019. For example, 61% of eighth graders were performing at or above basic levels in math in 2022, nine percentage points lower than in 2019. Fourth graders saw a similar decrease, with 72% of students performing with basic or above math skills.
The district began using Galileo, a grade-level assessment screener, in 2022-23, and Holt said the timely local data has been a difference maker.
“Prior to our use of Galileo, we would wait until we got our state assessment data back,” she said. “We called it autopsy data because it told us the standard skill gaps for that grade level. Well, those students are no longer in that grade level, and incoming students may have different gaps.
“Teachers have an opportunity to intervene now.”
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