Tutoring Gone Wild in America

by Darwin on August 23, 2010

While I always knew tutors existed and my wife even considered doing it for some time since she was a teacher before opting to stay home with the kids, I didn’t realize the extent to which tutoring and costly tutoring at that, occurs in America.  There was a NYTimes article this weekend outlining not only the prevalence of private tutors, but also the exorbitant costs and what the expectations are from parents.  Based on the article and on comments from readers on their experiences, I was shocked to learn that in many districts, the MAJORITY of students have their own private tutors, there are tutors for 4 year-olds to get into the top elementary schools, and some parents actually EXPECT entrance to a top ivy league school eventually if they employ high-priced tutors.

I was a tutor myself in college and I understood why these people were there (at the free university tutoring sessions).  These people simply needed some help to get them over the hump or perhaps they didn’t have a great understanding of the basic concepts from highschool and they found the college curriculum to be challenging.  I even tutored a guy I worked with a while back who was working on a college degree that needed some help with basic chemistry.  But I don’t understand the notion of high performing kids in top schools needing additional tutoring to fine-tune their test-taking abilities to tack on a 1% edge over the kid next to them who isn’t getting the tutoring.

Is Paid Tutoring Creating a New Class Warfare?

One has to wonder if we’re creating the new front in class warfare.  Decades ago, only the rich could afford to go to college until grants, loans, subsidies and college endowments went to great lengths to level the playing field.  Now, can only the rich afford the tutors needed to push kids into the funnel of the top echelon, further squeezing out the middle class and leaving low-income students in the dust?  Most middle-class and low income families either can’t afford tutoring or would never even consider a private tutor for a decent performer. Apparently, in the upper side, imagine the horror of NOT having a private tutor?

When Is Tutoring Reasonable?

Tutoring is of course reasonable when your child is not performing to their potential and you can’t fill in the gaps.  Perhaps you just never got geometry either and they’re struggling.  Perhaps they get Bs in everything, but they’re getting a C in History and History was just not your thing.  Sometimes, that’s the best expression of love, when you admit that you’ve taken your child as far as you can and you need to ask for help to make them better.  Everyone has a different way of thinking and often times, a teacher or a curriculum just may not jive with your child’s style.  A tutor can sometimes break that cycle and get through to them or provide them with the additional firepower needed to form those connections and realize their potential.

So, I don’t frown on tutoring at all; I just question whether it’s something everyone in the rich cohorts should really be subject to when they already enjoy the top public and private schools head and shoulders above the rest of the country.  Do they really need to boost that GPA an extra .05 and add 6 points to the SAT score that badly?

Are we really creating well-rounded happy kids?

Or just great test-takers that feel entitled?

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1 Jackie August 24, 2010 at 8:40 am

I’m going to have to ask my son if it’s like this in his school too. I know they have a peer-tutoring center at the school, and that many kids do get tutoring for subjects they’re struggling in, but I hadn’t heard about people using tutoring to try to get into better schools.

2 plin August 24, 2010 at 9:38 am

As someone that grow up in Asia for part of childhood, after school tutoring was a norm of life. It seems to me the level of competitiveness in U.S. is starting to move toward the same level as Asia. I do agree with you that the price is exorbitant in comparison to the return.

3 Theo September 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Instead of paying for good grades, it could be based on quarterly bonuses, like commisions jobs are based. Or, how about a severance package for kids? You could design a program so that if they ace all of high-school, they get a nice severance package, to use to go to school or whatever. And if they only do average, they only get enough to go to community college part time.

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