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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Extracurricular STEM classes little more than expensive daycare

Many Saratoga families believe that tutoring is the key to academic success.

The myth of the efficacy and even necessity of overpriced tutoring has penetrated deeply into our academic culture. It has turned a cottage industry into a multi-billion dollar business.

According to IBISWorld, the American tutoring industry had a market size of $11 billion in 2017, over 10 times its size in 2001. This growth was largely associated to the opinion that private tutoring is necessary to pick up the slack that public education is failing to provide.

In the Bay Area, the desire for good grades and academic achievement has likewise rapidly swelled the prices and availability local tutoring in the past couple of decades. Indeed, it is now possible to chuck a rock down any major street and hit a dozen tutoring centers.

The most often attended programs are STEM contest prep and SAT programs, which often charge over $50 an hour for group lessons.

They justify their prices with tales of their students’ successes. They make wild boasts, implying that their program was the sole reason for their students’ success. Yet despite this arrogance, their results seem to indicate that that their programs are worth the often inordinate amounts they charge.

Their teaching methods indicate otherwise.

Students who attend these programs don’t receive much instruction. Instead, they receive coerced practice.

The “teaching” at these programs is often limited to a couple of tips and tricks or perhaps the narration of a chapter in a textbook. With such limited instruction, the only great benefit that these programs provide is an incentive and place to practice. The greatest beneficiaries are the students who practice the hardest.

Some programs even drop the facade of instruction entirely. They sell themselves as “test preparation” programs and make it clear that they charge students only for their practice time.

The coerced practice works to an extent. It forces the student to learn, creating the illusion that the program is truly making a difference. The reality is that such practice would have had the same effect, with or without the program.

If good instruction was the drawing factor of these programs, they would have been out of business long ago. The promise of good instruction is a myth that is hard to uphold when offering a 40-person large group class.

Yet, students still attend these programs, despite their questionable instructional value. They are driven by any number of things —  a culture prizing academic success, or a desire to learn or even an external force coercing them to attend.

But one thing binds these drives together: the belief in the  necessity of a slave-driver to foster achievement. Families have spun the ridiculousness of these programs into a virtue.

Other benefits that can be gained from these programs fall short, and are almost non-considerations when parents choose these programs. Peers to work with and aggregated practice materials, the two greatest secondary benefits, are plentiful and easy to find.

The propagation of the belief in the necessity of tutoring programs lies in the myth that children who do not have the drive for academic success must have it pounded into them.

This myth funnels students into the tutoring programs, which butter up weak wills with snippets of tips and tricks and a whole lot of practice time.

The businesses survive only because they provide what parents want: visible results through forced practice, no matter the price.

The truth is that most students who scored well after going through a tutoring program could have scored equally well without it if they had the discipline to study on their own. In the meantime, parents would have saved thousands of dollars they didn’t need to spend.

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