Private Lessons: Big money, buyer beware

Many Long Island parents spend thousands of dollars a year on private tutors to help their children get better grades.

There are more than 200 tutoring centers around Long Island, and many other private instructors who make house visits.

But is it worth the money? And who's overseeing these private lessons?

The parents of 7-year-old Zach Fermin say they've spent thousands on tutoring at the Sylvan Learning Center this year, and that the program seems to be working. Experts say it's common for students to succeed in school with the help from tutors.

But tutoring is also an unregulated profession, and sometimes the results fall short of expectations.

Wayne Smith says he paid $3,000 to Huntington Learning in Manhasset to improve his son's English test scores.

"His test scores went down in the subject they were trying to improve," Smith says. "He followed their formula and it still didn't provide any results."

Attorney Kenneth Mollins, who's represented parents angry at tutoring firms, says you can't guarantee academic success.

"It just can't happen because you don't know how a student is going to respond to tutoring," Mollins says.

Huntington Learning's CEO Eileen Huntington says her company doesn't guarantee results.

"What we do guarantee is that we're going to give your child the best program and work with you and work with that child to see the kind of results that we do get," Huntington says.

Furthermore, there's no state licensing or required training for tutors, Mollins says. And without licensing, no mandatory criminal background checks.

Karen Kreamer-Singh learned that the hard way when the tutor she hired for her son stole jewelry from their home.

Bonnie Blier pleaded guilty to taking the jewelry as well as to other similar charges against clients in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Huntington says that such incidents are rare, and that her company does perform background checks on its tutors.

Catherine Romano, of the New York State PTA, says regulations on the industry would help protect parents.

"There's no 'Consumer Reports' of tutoring," Romano says. "There's not a whole lot of guidance on how to pick out a tutor."

As for the question of whether tutoring is worth it, well that depends who you ask.

"I don't know what the formula is for improving test scores, and apparently, neither do they," says Smith, who used Huntington Learning.

But Rachel Fermin, who used the Sylvan Learning Center, says she's pleased with the results for her son.

"The reading has gone up a few levels, and they are in constant contact with his school and his teachers," Fermin says.

Tune in tomorrow at 5 p.m. for Part II of this News 12 Long Island/Newsday special report: "Private Lessons: The Truth About Tutoring."

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