May 29, 2009

Using best-in-class hires to boost business

By Joyce Hanson, crain’s new york business.com, originally published on 5/22/09

Paying staff four times the competition’s going rate may seem like a crazy formula for success, but the strategy works for test-prep firm Manhattan GMAT.

When founder Zeke Vanderhoek used his savings and a credit card to start his business in 2000, he earned $50,000 that first year. By 2008, the firm grossed $10 million because, he says, Manhattan GMAT hires only instructors who score in the 99th percentile of the Graduate Management Admission Test, and it pays them $100 an hour.

“The idea that teachers are a core part of the experience of learning is not an original idea. The only innovation is that we were willing to pay for it,” says Mr. Vanderhoek, a Yale grad and former Teach for America teacher at I.S. 90 in Manhattan.

He stepped down as chief executive of Manhattan GMAT in 2007 to start up a charter school in Washington Heights, where he will duplicate his formula by paying teachers a salary of $125,000.

Though no longer involved with Manhattan GMAT’s day-to-day operations, Mr. Vanderhoek remains on as “something like a chairman,” noting that his company is not really into titles. He had this same flexible attitude at the start when supplementing his teacher’s income by tutoring everyone from elementary school students to M.B.A. applicants. Over a few years, he received so many word-of-mouth referrals from GMAT test-takers that when he left Teach for America in 2001, his business was already up and running.

Manhattan GMAT has tapped into the recession-proof market of test-takers who want to ace the exam and get into the best business schools so they’ll be M.B.A.-ready when the economy picks up. Far from viewing high staff pay as an indulgence, the firm sees it as an essential.

Chief Executive Andrew Yang says the firm’s formula depends on three key variables:

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Filed under: Academic Learning Centers,Admin/Management,Business Practices,Commercial

May 22, 2009

Program Sees Uptick in Volunteers – Tutors Learn as Well

by Cynthia Beudette, Muscatine Journal, originally published on 5/14/09

When Bob Giddings answered a request to tutor Muscatine High School students, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Since then, he’s been learning a few things himself. After helping one young man search for the answers to a history assignment, Giddings said hearing the student say he was actually beginning to like history was a meaningful breakthrough. “That made me feel really good,” said Giddings, 76.

Giddings had also been concerned about the age gap between him and the students. However, “I found that acceptance was not a problem,” he said. Giddings said Kathy Brooker, director of Muscatine Connected, a non-profit educational foundation, invited him to tutor in the new MHS component recovery program.

Brooker said the program helped 20 students catch up on their credits this semester. “Those students will never say, ‘I’m a high school dropout,’” said Brooker. “And this isn’t just about grades, it’s about having the confidence to know you can succeed. And success breeds success.”

That works with the tutors, too.

Brooker said their enthusiasm inspires other adults to become volunteers. The component recovery program was developed by Brooker, MHS principal Bob Weaton, MHS associate principal Diane Campbell and Keith Pogemiller, department leader of student services.

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Filed under: Academic Learning Centers,High School

May 13, 2009

Read it and Weep! Tutors Get Cut

by Meredith Kolodner, NY Daily News Staff Writer, originally posted 4/19/09

A city-funded volunteer program with a great track record of helping struggling elementary school kids learn to read is on the chopping block.Experience Corps, which uses local retirees, has helped hundreds of children who could barely read reach grade level within one school year – showing a 60% higher improvement rate than their peers. The city put up $400,000 this year, but that money ran out in December.

"She wasn’t reading to me at all before the tutoring," said Iesha Lewis, whose daughter Heaven is a first-grader at PS 129 in Harlem, where the average first-grade class has 26 kids."She would read ‘cat’ and ‘dog,’ only words that are so common," said Lewis, 22, of the South Bronx. "I was extremely worried. I really didn’t know what was wrong."Heaven began the program in the fall and her proud mom says she now comes home and reads books almost every day after school."I couldn’t do any of the quizzes because you had to be able to read the book, and I couldn’t," said Heaven, 6. "Now I can read the hard books."

A new study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis looked at 23 schools in three cities, including New York, that have the volunteer program.About 94% of the students qualified for free lunch and were black or Latino. A quarter were English language learners.Reading comprehension gains were the same regardless of ethnicity, income level, gender or language ability.The tutors are given 30 hours of training, about $60 per week for lunch and transportation. They work with students one-on-one and in small groups.

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Filed under: Academic Learning Centers

May 5, 2009

Tutors Work to Boost Native students

by Meghan Holland, Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on 4/9/09

Dropout rates are higher, test scores are lower than for students overall

Shafts of sunlight stream through the windows and illuminate the four sixth-graders gathered around the table with Kerri Wood.

Wood is working to solve a vexing problem: Get these kids up to grade level.

Wood is the Indian-education tutor at Tyson Elementary in Mountain View. She is part of a multi-pronged effort involving the Anchorage School District, nonprofits and tribal groups to close the test-score gap between Anchorage’s 4,200 Native students and the rest of the district’s 48,000 kids.

It’s not just poorer test results. Native students have also historically had the highest dropout rate in Anchorage.

Wood works for the school district but her salary is funded by federal Indian Education Act money. The district spends about $2 million of federal money a year on tutors like her. And while administrators say modest gains have been made, the gap is still big.

Last year, scores took a dive. Results in math, reading and writing lagged behind all students by some 15 percentage points.

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Filed under: Academic Learning Centers

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