Monday, June 06, 2005

Private tutoring versus commercial learning centers

Too young for tests - but not for tutors

"But many experts in early-childhood education adamantly oppose [commercial learning center] programs. They say the push for precociousness, even by parents with the best intentions, can put too much pressure on little ones and lead to burnout. Moreover, they argue that these kinds of programs are not suitable for children so young.

'It's that notion of education as a race, and it flies in the face of what we know about early-childhood education,' said David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child and professor of child development at Tufts University. 'All the evidence we have is it doesn't work, and it can do harm.'

'I'd say we are creating robots for the next generation," said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist at Temple University and coauthor of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. Like many education experts, she said young children learned best through exploration and play.

'If parents are demanding this service, it is because the education system has scared them to death,' said Mariaemma Willis, coauthor of Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten. 'Parents are afraid their children won't be tops academically, they won't go to the best college, they won't get the best jobs. The system has convinced them to push the 'determining' age lower and lower - that is, the age at which their child's success or failure in life is determined.'


Private tutoring and commercial learning centers are not created equally. I am bothered by the fact that this article makes it seem as though they are one and the same.

Commercial learning centers, like The Score and Sylvan, appear very good on paper. They tout that their programs foster a love of learning and increased "smarts." In reality, these programs foster a love of fast paced computer games and external reward systems. In San Diego, Sylvan offers,"individualized instruction" with a 3:1 student teacher ratio using prefabricated worksheets.

These centers do amazingly well because they appear to make big promises about long-term success and motivation. They even guarantee higher test scores after a month of preparation. What most people don't know is that these centers are banking heavily on "poor retest validity" measures. Meaning, when administered a test more than once, you should expect to perform better on the second assessment. In other words, being familiar with a test is enough to make us test significantly better which makes the second assessment invalid.

Furthermore, for young children, I agree that computer time should be limited. And for any child, burnout should be avoided at all costs. I am lucky enough to work with parents who want to give their child an edge, not an anxiety disorder.

A truly individualized education, anchored in love and respect for a child's wellbeing, is what I offer to my clients. Extreme presence is my best attribute. This presence leads to intense in-the-moment analysis that aids in steering present and future interactions with each student.

As an educational theorist, my goal is to be thinking about my students. Learning centers apply current theories to masses of students. I'd rather be a creator and innovator of education than a bricklayer


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