About five years ago while he was teaching statistics at MAST Academy, Carlos Delgado noticed a trend: His students, under increasing pressure to achieve ever higher scores on college entrance exams, were pouring their money into private test tutoring.
Then, inevitably, they’d come back to Delgado for help with their tutoring, completing what seemed like an absurd loop.
So Delgado, sharing his students’ frustration with inept instruction, started helping them after class, enlisting his colleague, Preston Scanlon, an English teacher, to tutor reading and writing. Meeting one-on-one or in small groups in a converted garage at Scanlon’s mother’s house in Coral Gables, they targeted students’ weaknesses, tailoring their work to their students’ needs.
Eventually, word about the two talented teachers spread and the number of students grew. They began seeing younger students struggling with the FCAT, or just trying to keep up in a world that expects 12-year-olds to master algebra. Delgado realized he could no longer squeeze his growing business into the converted garage, so he moved to an office on Red Road. Then, before the last school year began, he quit his job at MAST to focus on his business full-time.
With more time to devote to managing it, he made some small changes. He renamed it Gables Tutoring to better reflect his location. He leased a second office in the strip center to handle the increasing number of classes, which had grown to include three full-time SAT and ACT classes. And he hired additional teachers when he needed help. But he still struggled with defining an overall plan and strategy for the future.
“I really like what I do. It’s the challenge of growing and improving,” he said. “We’ve done well, but I really want to do better.”
So earlier this year he turned to the Miami Herald’s Small Business Makeover project and asked for guidance. The Herald contacted the Miami-Dade chapter of SCORE, a national nonprofit that maintains a roster of 13,000 volunteer counselors who, in 2010, helped create more than 56,000 businesses and 71,000 jobs.
SCORE, in turn, recruited volunteer Carlos Blanco, a former sales and Internet executive who has founded several successful Internet businesses, including Aftermath, which handles legal logistics for clients after divorce. It helped that Blanco has two teenage sons, and knew firsthand the perils of college entrance exams.
Private tutoring, or what SmartMoney dubbed the “tutoring-industrial complex,” has exploded in recent years, growing into a $5 billion business 10 times the size it was a decade ago. In addition to fierce competition among colleges and universities, demand has been driven by the No Child Left Behind Act that in 2001 required all Title 1schools not meeting assessment targets to offer free tutoring. Increased use of online classes only added to the need, along with an array of tests including the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT) that high school students must take to enroll in college classes, and the Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment (CELLA), for students learning English.
Today, students can choose from a long and varied list of services, from corporate tutoring companies like Kumon and Sylvan Learning Center, that offer a one-size-fits-all format in subjects like math and writing, to test prep companies including Kaplan and Princeton Review, where instructor-led SAT and ACT classes cost upwards of $1,000 for 30 hours. Website marketplaces like WyzAnt let students shop for neighborhood tutors, while online TutorUniverse can hook students up with, say, a differential geometry tutor in South Dakota.