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The Real Cost of Tutoring

“This test tomorrow is going to be so hard, but I have a tutor tonight for 2 hours. So I should be in pretty good shape.” This is a conversation many students have with their peers at Friends Academy before an exam or even on a daily basis. Not only are more students at Friends entering the world of private tutoring, over the last 25 years there has been a “tutoring revolution” at other schools too. According to Edward Gordon of the Imperial Consulting Corporation, “Americans spent over $15 billion on academic tutoring last year.” As the pressure to have good grades, take the most advanced classes, and get into college increases, students are more reliant on private tutors than ever before. In the long run, this can produce “Tutoring Syndrome”: student reliance on tutors through high school, followed by a struggle to work independently once they reach college.

Parental involvement is a major part of the “revolution” occurring in our society. Parents want what’s best for their children, but is private tutoring the answer? From a parent’s perspective, tutoring is just giving the student extra help, but what they don't realize is that they are creating a safe button. This safe button will not exist when the students get to college; then there will be no cushion to fall back on. The hysteria about getting each child on the “Ivy- bound path” puts pressure on the parents to do everything they can. Typically, when thinking about getting tutors for their kids, parents at Friends will say, "Well, everyone one else seemed to have one and I didn't want him/her to miss out.”

FA describes itself as “a Quaker, coeducational, independent, college preparatory school,” a statement taken from the “Learn More About FA” section of our school website. When you think about what a college preparatory school is, it is pretty self explanatory: it’s a school that prepares students for college. How does this definition alter when private tutors enter the picture? Think about it: if the goal of the school is to prepare you with a similar workload to college, how will this work if you have a tutor ready to walk you through the material after school hours? Some people may argue that our classes are more difficult and tutoring is the only way to maintain a steady grade, but that is what makes them so special. The teachers at our school do not “teach for the test,” like instructors at public schools; they teach to make academic successes, usually creating an environment that teaches us to push the extra mile. For example, in Mr.Alber’s Honors Chem Class, the extra mile is what will eventually lead to a strong performance in college.

Private tutoring is not all bad, and for students with special needs, tutoring is actually very helpful. A tutor can teach a student with special needs learning strategies to help him or her do well in school and overcome obstacles the specific student has in learning. It is often difficult for a student with special needs to keep up work wise with the other students, so a tutor is a good way to ensure that they do keep up. In contrast, “gifted” students can also benefit more than the average student from tutors, especially if he or she is doing beyond the average work. By providing enrichment activities, the tutor can instruct a student who excels in school to look at subjects on a deeper level or give them more challenging problems. In this case, students are not relying on tutors to help with their “everyday” homework; instead, they are looking for someone who will push them and sometimes allow them to be taught beyond what is being taught at the child’s current grade level.

An entire tutoring industry has evolved based on the drive for students to be more academically competitive. This industry is not cheap: tutors who are often day teachers make on average 150 dollars an hour, possibly 2 or 3 times a week and for two different subjects. That is about 900 dollars a week in private tutoring per student. This gives some students in our community an advantage financially over others, which does not follow the Quaker principle the FA community emphasizes: equality. This should be brought up to the student faculty board and an amendment should be made to limit tutor involvement with students. A compromise would be to limit private tutoring on the Friends Academy campus, especially from outside tutors. From a teacher’s point of view, observing one of their students getting tutored puts a bad reflection on them.

Instead of having a private tutor, go to the teacher of the class you are struggling in for extra help. The extra help that is offered to students at Friends Academy is beyond helpful. Not only are most teachers willing to take time out of their day to help you, there is bound to be one teacher in each department who will be able to help (even if they are not your teacher this year). If you do not have time to meet during a free or P.E. block, send your teacher an email and plan to meet at a different time. Some teachers even will come before or stay after school hours to ensure that you feel well prepared and are no longer struggling. Another benefit of going to your teacher for extra help is that they most likely know the material you are learning very well: they teach it every day. It will be easy for them to pinpoint exactly where a student needs help, in comparison to a tutor who may need a few days to refresh him or herself with the material.

Peer tutoring is also extremely effective, especially when a student does not have a lot of time before the next assessment or their essay is due. Do not be shy to ask an upperclassman or even one of your classmates for help: a student’s help may be even more helpful than a teacher’s. Some benefits of peer tutoring for students include higher academic achievement, improved relationships with peers, improved personal and social development, as well as increased motivation. All of these benefits relate to the old saying: “To teach is to learn twice.” The student who is “teaching” or helping the student who is struggling is also benefitting because they are reiterating the information they learned. This method of tutoring is extremely effective for both students. At FA, we have a direct program dedicated to peer tutoring, the Writing Center, which is located on the third floor of the library. The Writing Center allows students to book appointments with junior or senior writing fellows, student who have been trained and certified to help with any form of writing assignments. Every student should use this program to their advantage, not only because other schools do not have a program like this, but also because it is great for getting feedback on your work. Studies have shown that students remember things more when they are presented or taught by someone close to their age, which is exactly what the Writing Center does. It allows students to branch out of their comfort zone in a private space for valuable 1 on 1 feedback.

There is a major difference between having a private tutor for the SAT or ACT, and having one for difficult regular school classes. The SAT is the biggest standardized test taken for college admissions, and it does not have a direct correlation to your classes at school. It is a national exam used to rank students against each other. Parents constantly have the question, “If my child doesn’t take an SAT course, will she lose her spot at college to a kid who did?” running through their minds. In addition to private tutors, prep for these standardized test include classes and online courses. Doing this preparation in a group setting has many benefits: students can listen to each other's questions and learn from them. It is also much more similar to a classroom setting, preparing the students for a college environment. Individual tutors for the SAT may be more successful depending on what type of student you are. Some students do not even need preparation for these exams and do well the first time taking this 4-hour monster. This type of tutoring can boost your score by a couple hundred points, teach you good test taking strategies, but it cannot put you at an unfair advantage of getting an A in AP physics. Also, students take this test only during their junior and sometimes senior year of high school, so there is no chance it would impact their need for a tutor in college.

In the end, tutoring has its pros and cons depending on the situation. If a student has special needs or is “gifted” a tutor can help the student keep up with the curriculum of the class or push them to excel. In contrast, private tutoring for the average student for a hard, honors, or an AP class creates a reliance on tutors on the students’ part. If there is a hard test, students will rely on a tutor to prepare for it, instead of developing strong study habits. Studies have shown that the use of private tutors in high school eventually leads to a struggle to work independently once students reach college. Tutoring at FA also puts some students at a financial advantage over others. This contradicts the Quaker principle our community stands by: equality. A better alternative to using a private out of school tutor would be to ask a friend for help or to go to your teacher for extra help. Peer tutoring is beneficial for not only the student seeking help, but also for the student who is providing the help. This ideology also changes for standardized tests because they do not correspond to classes in school; tutoring is actually very helpful on these tests. This whole “tutoring syndrome” that has developed can be beneficial in some situations, but can cause some students to struggle in a college environment.


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