On April 13th and April 15th, Anna M. Phillips from the New York Times published two articles about the tutoring scene in New York City: After Number of Gifted Soars, a Fight for Kindergarten Slots and Tutoring Surges With Fight for Middle School Spots. Fueled by competition for limited seats in highly sought after kindergarten programs, middle schools, and high schools, tutoring companies across the city are poised to benefit from this school frenzy and family fear factor. Beyond admissions testing for these types of public school programs, there is similar energy surrounding admissions testing for independent schools at every level from kindergarten through high school. Then begins preparation for the SATs or ACTs or both. In an educational environment with high stakes testing and scarcity of resources, this increase to seek tutors and specialists shouldn’t come as a surprise, and parents will do anything they can to set their children up for success.
As parents prepare for these types of school transitions, it’s really important to be clear about goals and values before reaching out for any supplemental tutoring or test preparation. It’s one thing to familiarize students with a test format, but it’s an entirely different matter to push for admissions into a school where a child may ultimately feel frustrated and unsuccessful. We should not compare preparation for the ECAA (administered by ERB) or kindergarten G&T testing (administered by the DoE) with preparation for the SATs. Older students are prepared to sit for extended study periods and to practice the required drills for college entrance exams. They are able to be a part of the strategic thinking and planning that goes into the college admissions process. Preschoolers are just having their first experiences with education, and we send a sad message when we expose them to paper and pencil cramming. Instead there are ways to embed these skills into structured play in order to build stamina for difficult tasks and comfort working one on one with a new person.
This is the approach that our early childhood educators take at My Learning Springboard when working with very young students ranging from ages 3 to 5. Our preschoolers love their tutors and usually ask for sessions more than once a week. For parents who have the resources to support private tutoring, their experience has been hugely positive. Articles about preschool and kindergarten tutoring usually cause readers to imagine some insane scene with helicopter parents on the sidelines and tormented children being drilled on practice questions. Sadly, this scene probably exists in many tutoring circles. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
When tutoring is developmentally appropriate and planned over longer periods of time, we can really get to know a student and enrich his or her learning in a way that follows the child’s rhythms. The experience is positive and creates a joy for learning. Our teachers also provide parent education so that families are empowered to support learning beyond the tutoring sessions. If the intention is thoughtful and genuine, the tutoring experience can be an amazing one.
For parents considering test preparation for their rising kindergartners or sixth graders, I would encourage them to carefully consider the messages they want to send their children and their value set as a family. Have they visited the schools they’re so desperately clamoring to get into? Are they sure the end justifies the means? Do they feel the tutoring company has their child’s best interest at heart or do they feel that they’re being engaged in transactional tutoring?
Just because it feels like everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to. I’m all for being honest about the admissions process in New York City, which is indeed intense and overwhelming. But I also believe strongly in the integrity of teaching and learning. There are ways to engage in test preparation that are strategic and reasonable. If done well, test preparation should add to a family’s investment in developing successful, lifelong learners.By Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed.
Board Certified Educational Planner and Learning Specialist
My Learning Springboard, Inc.