kitchen table math, the sequel: "To say you can’t improve scores is to say you can’t improve students"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"To say you can’t improve scores is to say you can’t improve students"

Speaking of SAT prep, I came across an obit for Stanley Kaplan, who died last year. It's a beautiful story.

From the Times obit:
Stanley H. Kaplan, a businessman and teacher who carved out a lucrative niche in the world of for-profit education and made test-preparation classes a rite of passage for students across America, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 90 and had homes in Manhattan and Boca Raton, Fla.

Propelled by his students’ success on the SAT and other standardized exams — and by the enormous growth in standardized testing — Mr. Kaplan transformed the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Center from a tiny tutoring operation in his basement in Brooklyn in the late 1930s into a nationwide test-preparation company.

Along the way he successfully challenged the College Board's denials that coaching could significantly improve student scores and convinced the Federal Trade Commission that his claims of helping students were valid.

“To say you can’t improve scores is to say you can’t improve students, and I disagree with that,” he told The New York Times in 1979.

By November 1984, when Mr. Kaplan, then 65, sold his business to the Washington Post Company for $45 million, it had more than 120 teaching centers and nearly 100,000 students.

Today, Kaplan Inc. is a diversified education company and the Post Company’s largest business, recording $2.3 billion in revenue last year.

Mr. Kaplan did not start out with a strategic plan to build a business. He began by preparing students for the New York State Regents exams. But when a student showed up in 1946 asking for help on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (as the SAT was then called), he saw an opportunity. And when students later sought his help on medical school exams, he signed them on, too.

For decades his services remained local, marketed to Roman Catholic schools and to yeshivas. Most students arrived by word of mouth. But he gradually began to attract students from around the country.


Despite his growing success, Mr. Kaplan faced resistance from the College Board, which continued to assert that gains from test-preparation courses were minimal. Opposition was so strong, Mr. Kaplan recalled, that some students felt a need to register under false names, like Jane Doe and Albert Einstein. 

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper refused to run his advertisements, and the university denied his requests to hang posters and rent rooms for his courses. He called the opposition “elitist” and distributed T-shirts on campus. Students flocked to his classes.


Despite the criticism, Mr. Kaplan was convinced of the value of his teaching, which both reviewed subject material and offered strategies for taking tests. Indeed, in 1979 the F.T.C. found that test preparation by Kaplan and other companies could improve students’ scores.


The son of Jewish immigrants from what are now Belarus and Latvia who did not attend college — his father ran a plumbing business, and his mother helped out — he grew up in a household that valued education.

In his autobiography, Mr. Kaplan wrote that he was sure that when he and his brother and sister were born, his mother “swatted us on the backside and pronounced with conviction, ‘You’re going to college.’ ”

He said he performed well in school because he “strove to please” his mother, a perfectionist who directed his kindergarten class in a Mozart minuet, complete with powdered wigs, velvet coats with tails and long gowns.


Although he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and second in his class at City College in 1939, he was unable to get into medical school. “I was Jewish, and I attended a public college,” he wrote. “I had a double whammy against me.”

That experience made him a champion of standardized tests when others attacked them. If there had been a medical school admissions test, he said, he could have shown the medical schools that he was the equal of students from private universities.

He began to turn his sideline in tutoring into a formal business. He created worksheets and review tapes and laced his classes with jokes and repetition.

In 1943, after he complained about errors in Barron’s test preparation books, the publisher invited him to help write and edit the books. Seeing it as a good way to promote his own business, he wrote 16 study guides for the New York State Regents exams.

As the business grew, it remained at heart a family enterprise. At one time or another his mother, his wife, his older brother, his three children and his father-in-law helped out, and he ran the business from his home until 1957.


Mr. Kaplan claimed to have discovered his affinity for teaching at the age of 9. “While other children played doctor, I played teacher,” he wrote in his autobiography. He said he often volunteered to help classmates with their schoolwork. If they refused, he sometimes offered them a dime to “just sit down and listen.”

His schoolteachers recognized his talent, too. His algebra teacher often sat in a big chair in the corner while Mr. Kaplan led the class. And when he was in 10th grade — he was 14 — his school offered him 25 cents an hour to tutor other students.

He was also an instinctive entrepreneur. As a youngster, he noticed that his friends often borrowed books from his house. He decided to create a lending library, setting up an office in the playroom, issuing library cards and charging two cents a week per book. Some weeks he made as much as a dollar. These instincts continued to be reliable as he built his test-preparation enterprise.

Stanley Kaplan, Pioneer in Preparing Students for Exams, Dies at 90
Published: August 24, 2009

Kaplan Inc.
Stanley Kaplan loved to teach.

Stanley H. Kaplan: Test Pilot: How I broke testing barriers for millions of students and caused a sonic boom in the business of education

1 comment:

Catherine Johnson said...

If you have time, read the whole story.

It's wonderful.