It seems like everywhere I go these days I see private tutoring centers popping up. You’ve probably seen it happening too, but maybe haven’t recognized that these stores with funny names like Kaplan and Kumon are actually tutoring centers. There are hundreds of other physical and online vendors as well with even stranger names like Alphascore, Grockit and Number2 that have been gaining traction. There was an article on NPR from 9 years ago citing that commercial tutoring is a $4 Billion a year business, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the number is over $10 Billion today.
What is driving this trend? Are our schools failing? Has admission into college become so competitive that you need outside tutors just to compete? I know from personal experience that competing at the highest level academically requires hard work, access to resources and every competitive advantage you can get. While I’m not sure I would send my second graders to math boot camp if they were doing OK in school, I would make sure they had some test prep for the SAT and other critical exams. And I would make sure they were sleeping well, exercising regularly and staying on top of their homework. Chewing some Think Gum during exam time would also be readily encouraged.
While everyone can afford a pack of Think Gum, not everyone can afford private test prep. It is outrageously expensive! Private tutors can cost upwards of $75 an hour and and classes for grad school entrance exams routinely cost over $1,000. There is no question that these classes help, but it does create a bit of an uneven playing field. I was happy to hear recently that the College Board (makers of the SAT) is opening up their question bank to Kahn Academy to help offer free SAT prep. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
Commercial tutoring is a trend that will only increase over the next decade as spots in top academic institutions become harder and harder to get. Unfortunately, this means making the most out of every study session, standardized test and pop-quiz will be more and more important.