Need a tutor? Call India.
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One big reason for the outsourcing is, of course, cost. Take Growing Stars, a small company headquartered in Fremont, Calif., and a center with 20 tutors in Kochi, India (all of whom start their workday at 4:30 a.m.). Lower labor costs allow the company to offer one-on-one services for $20 an hour, significantly less than the $45 to $80 an hour charged by big-name tutoring companies like Sylvan and Kaplan.Skip to next paragraph
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"My teachers are all highly educated, come from math and science backgrounds, and have prior teaching experience. American teachers of comparable quality would be doubly expensive," says Biju Mathew, who started the company last year.
When San Antonio resident Johan Verzijl decided to hire an online chemistry and math tutor for his 11th-grade son, Nick, he had no clue at first he'd be working with someone from India. The cost of Growing Stars attracted him - so much so that he wondered at first if it was for real.
"When I found out it was based in India, my initial concern was - whoa!" he says, citing worries about technical problems and language barriers.
But he decided to give it a try, and now says his son and his two tutors developed a good relationship after a week or so of getting used to the tutors' accents.
Twice a week Nick sits down with a headset and a whiteboard tablet to write upon, working through problems with the tutors over the Internet. The tutors received copies of his textbooks so they could see the assignments, and got information ahead of time about Nick's interests and activities to help build a rapport. "They've bent over backwards with us to make this work," says Mr. Verzijl.
Still, while Growing Stars works directly with families, other US companies provide most of their services to children at failing schools. After the school spends three years on the "needs improvement" list, NCLB requires tutoring to be offered. The fact that tutoring providers are allowed to hire overseas just underscores an overall lack of oversight of the industry, say critics. They point to what they say is a gross double standard: allowing such loose hiring practices while prohibiting some failing districts, including Boston and Chicago, from offering their own tutoring, even though that may mean fewer children receive the services.
"Our members who are working with kids every day in the classrooms are, in some cases, being told by the Department of Education, 'Your school has been labeled in need of improvement, therefore your district can no longer be providers,' but at the same time they're turning around and saying we can send tax dollars overseas without knowing the qualifications or materials that tutor is working with," says Van Meter of the AFT.
As technology develops and the barriers to communication erode, most agree that tutoring is likely to join the list of other jobs facing global competition. Some hurdles remain, of course. Indian tutors undergo training to learn an American accent and US teaching methods, but still face some cultural gaps. And just dealing with students online - rather than face to face - can be tough.
"Empathizing with students, motivating them, and promoting higher-level thinking are all challenging when the student can't see the tutor but only listens to her voice," says Swati Chopra, a finance graduate who joined Career Launcher as a math tutor a year ago.
Her colleague Basak had to get used to another challenge of working with US students. "I find that we tutors also need to shower a lot of praise for the students' good work," he says, "which is very uncommon in India."