An effort to make for-profit tutoring a little more affordable

For many parents, private tutoring is not an option – the expense is prohibitive and teachers are often reluctant to recommend for-profit groups that provide the service.

But the for-profit tutoring industry is changing – and at least some of it is getting more affordable.

Currently, more than 40 percent of American K-12 students perform below grade level in the two key areas of reading and math. And many never catch up in crowded classrooms.

Finding help outside school isn't much easier: For more than $50 an hour, education companies like Sylvan Learning Systems outperform tutoring provided at school, but no everyone can afford it.

Now W. Berry Fowler, the founder of Sylvan Learning, has a new idea. He's borrowed a phrase from George H. W. Bush and formed a new company, A Thousand Points of Knowledge, specifically designed to keep hourly tutoring charges down.

Although "affordable private tutoring" may seem like an oxymoron, the company offers comprehensive programs in reading, math, and study skills for about $25 an hour – between 30 and 60 percent less than the competition.

Mr. Fowler promises high-quality tutoring by offering an average student-teacher ratio of 3 to 1 and a series of diagnostic tests to determine specific learning needs. Certified teachers will run the learning centers and hire all instructors.

Still, $25 an hour is out of reach for many families. And like Sylvan and Kaplan, Fowler says, the program can help only students whose parents are willing to be strong advocates for them.

But for the price of standard piano lessons, the company promises to help struggling students advance at least one grade level in reading or math in just a couple of months. And Fowler says he's encouraging local franchises to sponsor scholarship programs for low-income families.

Fowler has placed the Thousand Points of Knowledge Learning Centers in YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and local parks and recreation departments – familiar locations where kids often hang out after school. If all goes according to plan, these nonprofits will generate revenue from the program. Currently 41 learning centers are up and running. The company hopes that number will rise to 200 by the end of 2002. For more information see www.1000pointsofknowledge.com.

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