kitchen table math, the sequel: $39,000 for tuition - $35,000 for tutors

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

$39,000 for tuition - $35,000 for tutors

Siddharth Iyer spent eight Mays cramming for finals, first at Stuyvesant High School and then at Columbia University.

Nine years later, it is still crunch time for Mr. Iyer, a top tutor at Ivy Consulting Group, as his clients face a deluge of end-of-year exams. “He’s been prepping my son all week,” said the mother of one, a senior at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, speaking on the condition that she not be named because Riverdale discourages both tutoring and talking to reporters.

“Prepping” — in this case for an oral exam in Riverdale’s notorious Integrated Liberal Studies, an interdisciplinary class laden with primary sources instead of standard textbooks — did not start the week before the exams, the mother pointed out. She said she had paid Mr. Iyer’s company $750 to $1,500 each week this school year for 100-minute sessions on Liberal Studies, a total of about $35,000 — just shy of Riverdale’s $38,800 tuition.

Last year, she said, her tutoring bills hit six figures, including year-round SAT preparation from Advantage Testing at $425 per 50 minutes; Spanish and math help from current and former private school teachers at $150 an hour; and sessions with Mr. Iyer for Riverdale’s equally notorious interdisciplinary course Constructing America, at $375 per 50 minutes.

Push for A’s at Private Schools Is Keeping Costly Tutors Busy
By JENNY ANDERSON
Published: June 7, 2011
Elite New York schools like Riverdale and Dalton hire teachers with Ph.Ds -- not Ed.Ds*-- in the fields they teach. Very likely, what has happened here is that these teachers have created advanced college-level courses high school students can't handle.

We need micro-schools.

* When we looked at private schools 3 years ago, we found that the math teachers in nearly every private school had Masters degrees in education, not math.

19 comments:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The math teacher my son had at his private middle school was pretty good. He had a PhD in chemistry and an MS in electrical engineering, so his approach to geometry and algebra 2 was very practical, but rigorous.

He was laid off, though, due to declining enrollments in the school and the school's desire to have fluffier math classes.

The public high school did not have as good a fit for our son, so we had him do his Precalculus class online with Art of Problem Solving, which was a good fit.

jtidwell said...

So if a parent with no experience with classroom teaching or school administration wanted to start a private micro-school, how would she go about it?

Seriously.

Start a homeschooling coop with like-minded parents, so as to avoid the state regulation nightmares? Find an old-school teacher with lots of experience and content knowledge, and hire him or her for "tutoring"?

Hainish said...

Ditto on that. I'd love to start a microschool in my district.

One idea I had is that it would have to be sold to the district as a win/win exchange of resources. They provide the space and the students, and an external non-profit pays for the teacher's salaries. The district gets to boast a lower student-teacher ratio, the microschool gets to decide what pedagogical approach they will use.

Appealing to the unions will be tricky.

Bonnie said...

I am glad you posted this! I saw the article yesterday in the NY Times.

Cranberry said...

Elite New York schools like Riverdale and Dalton hire teachers with Ph.Ds -- not Ed.Ds* in the fields they teach. Very likely, what has happened here is that these teachers have created advanced college-level courses high school students can't handle.

I disagree. I think the New York private school world is a very small, wealthy, and dysfunctional place. Parents are paying tutors to boost their children's GPAs. This is about the hunt for class rank and college admissions, not academic challenge.

This parent admits to paying the equivalent of a year's tuition for extra tutoring for one course. I don't think she only pays for tutors for one subject. Five courses, $40,000 per course = $200,000 for tutors.

I know my teens can keep up with their peers. I'm not so certain that my teens could keep up with peers who have tutors standing at their elbow who begin the year knowing what will be assigned. The tutors probably know the teacher's preferences and pet peeves. They probably have copies of every assignment and test the teachers have assigned over the last decade.

At worst, the tutors may be DOING the work for the students.

The satirical novel, Schooled, by Anisha Lakhani, covered this phenomenon. At least, I thought the novel was satirical. "Until 2006 Anisha Lakhani taught English at the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where she also chaired the Middle School English Department." (http://www.anishalakhani.com/meet.htm)

I don't know what the schools can do about it. The parents know the schools don't want them using tutors, and they hire tutors anyway. They lie to the schools. The parents are perpetuating an arms race.

This arms race has nothing to do with the teachers' training or expectations. It has everything to do with parental pride.

The funny part is, I'm sure college admissions officers know of this. They can compare the college performance of the NY private school admits to their GPAs. It does make it hard for their peers whose parents aren't willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for better grades.

Crimson Wife said...

The cynic in me thinks that these students are the scions of wealthy families who really shouldn't even be at a school like Riverdale or Dalton but who got accepted through hefty donations and/or connections. The courses are likely perfectly appropriate for the students who actually got in on their own academic merits.

The absolute dumbest kid I met at Stanford was my DH's fraternity brother, whose father was a university trustee. Unsurprisingly, his family name was on one of the buildings. Coincidence? I think not...

Liz Ditz said...

Fact Check #1:

I'm in Northern California and fairly familiar with all the private schools in the area.

I looked at the credentials of a sampling of science, math, and history teachers at two competing schools.

Around here, fewer PhDs in the sciences or math teaching, but a lot of MS degrees + years in industry, then on to teaching high school.

Only two PhDs in history departments.

I predict that as current faculty age out, there will be more PhDs teaching at the highschool level, because of the overproduction of PhDs (esp in liberal arts) and the lack of tenure track positions at the university level.

Catherine Johnson said...

Very likely, what has happened here is that these teachers have created advanced college-level courses high school students can't handle.

I actually know this to be the case because I've talked to parents at some of these schools as well as a teacher at another school that is not named in the article.

The teacher told me that people with Ph.Ds come in having no idea what teenagers are capable of, what level they're at, etc. They are trained in a discipline, not in teaching.

If you look at the two majorly offending courses here, they're not "real" subjects; they're interdisciplinary & theoretical. "Constructing America," "Integrated Liberal Studies" -- these are going to be comp litt-y.

Comp lit is way beyond the capacities of teens & most college students.

I'm sure parents are hiring other tutors, but obviously the courses people are complaining about most intensely are these two.

When we were registering C. at his Jesuit high school, one of the moms there told us she was pulling her son out of one of these schools because he couldn't begin to write the papers he was supposed to write. There wasn't any extra help, either.

In fact, she was on her way to the library after registration to start research for the next huge research paper he had to do but had no idea how to do.

Giving kids work that's over their heads is a false form of rigor I've seen in public schools, too.

Catherine Johnson said...

The tutors probably know the teacher's preferences and pet peeves. They probably have copies of every assignment and test the teachers have assigned over the last decade.

I would bank on it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Another issue at some of these schools is that kids enter in Kindergarten. A new crop of super-brainy kids come in in 9th grade, and no doubt some of the kids who've been there since Kindergarten can't keep up.

For the past few years it's been extremely difficult to get into these school; they're more selective than the Ivies.

Catherine Johnson said...

The reason there are so many Ph.Ds working in private schools here is that people with Ph.Ds often got their degrees here and prefer to continue living here rather than taking a job elsewhere. Many have spouses who live here, which is another issue.

You wouldn't see the same population of private school teachers with Ph.Ds in most places.

Catherine Johnson said...

Appealing to the unions will be tricky.

Here in NY state a parent can't even volunteer to run an after-school math club because that is "union work," as our superintendent calls it.

Even if no member of the union wants to run a math club, a parent or member of the community still can't do it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Start a homeschooling coop with like-minded parents, so as to avoid the state regulation nightmares? Find an old-school teacher with lots of experience and content knowledge, and hire him or her for "tutoring"?

I though lots of parents had started homeschooling cooperatives...

Is that not true?

Catherine Johnson said...

He had a PhD in chemistry and an MS in electrical engineering, so his approach to geometry and algebra 2 was very practical, but rigorous.

Wow!

I heard a fabulous story along these lines from a mom here.

She attended a tiny little private school in the south that had a brilliant math teacher who taught the kids for several grades in a row.

The mom told me she learned math so well that she enrolled in an engineering school, intending to major in engineering -- having NO idea that she didn't have the level of ability the other students did!

She said her teacher was **intense.**

Intense and great.

Jen said...

**Another issue at some of these schools is that kids enter in Kindergarten. A new crop of super-brainy kids come in in 9th grade, and no doubt some of the kids who've been there since Kindergarten can't keep up.**

Yes, in response to a question about what a private school does well/how well students coming in are prepared, I've been told this exact truth. Kids coming in at 6th and 9th grade usually end up being the high-performers in the class/grade.

"You really can't tell if a 5 year old is going to be an academic performer in high school," was another quote.

I guess the moral of the story is to wait if you think your kid is really smart and to get them in early if you think you've got a pleasantly average child? (And then save up lots of for tutors.)

Allison said...

--"You really can't tell if a 5 year old is going to be an academic performer in high school," was another quote.

Are you talking to the same people I am? I too heard almost exactly this quote recently from two different private schools.

But I didn't attribute it to the fact that they brought in "non academic performers" (even though the speakers did.)

I attributed it to their curriculum and teaching philosophy--the lower grade curricula are TOTALLY disconnected from the upper schools, and often, the view (accurate or not) from the lower school is that the upper school views them with disdain, and so does not try to align curriculum so all students will succeed.

This is what SteveH talks about happening in the math in his district in particular, but it happens everywhere, and in private schools it happens nearly everywhere, in all subjects. It's noticeable to me how much it happens in math and science. But I imagine it's just as possible in english rhetoric or literature, as Catherine notes.

Allison said...

--I though lots of parents had started homeschooling cooperatives...Is that not true?

Finding a co op and finding a co op with like-minded parents on the issues of subject content and teaching philosophy are two vastly different things, let alone finding a way to teach the broad range of kids you get even inside a co op.

Bonnie said...

Here in NY, you get teachers with PhDs even in the public schools. I have known several, people who teach in the high-prestige districts. I even knew someone with a PhD in a STEM field who was teaching in Scarsdale. People are just so desperate to stay in the NYC region.

GypsyGourmet said...

From what I've seen tutoring a number of kids who go to Riverdale, Dalton, etc. is that it's a combination of factors. I remember a student who attended one of the "Riverdale" schools pointing out to me several years ago that he felt that many of his teachers were treating him and his classmates as if they were in college, and that it wasn't fair because they weren't actually in college. I couldn't have agreed with him more.

What I see is that many of the "elite" private K-12 schools are really geared toward the high school-aged kids, and that the ones who enter in kindergarten can end up a disadvantage because they don't acquire the skills they'll eventually need when it really counts. Hence the need for tutors. Add that to the fact that the schools are under tremendous pressure to show everyone how academically advanced they are in order to impress colleges and flatter the parents (NYC kids, being from NYC rather than from, say, Iowa, should be given work that reflects their exceptional worldliness and sophistication), and you end up asking kids to do college-level work when they haven't yet mastered middle school-level skills. Of course they can't do it themselves; no one's ever given them the tools!

If you can't write a coherent sentence - never mind a coherent thesis - you shouldn't be in a class that requires you to read literary criticism. Period. No sixteen year-old I've ever encountered, from NYC or anywhere else, has the mental facility or life experience to understand beyond an exceedingly superficial level what most critics are saying. High school should be for mastering a wide body of fundamental knowledge, including dates and facts , that can be built upon in more theoretical terms when students hit college (No, Voltaire did not live during the Renaissance, as I was informed by a student at one of the very top NYC schools!), not for taking seminars in Chaucer. Giving kids work they can't handle in high school teaches them nothing. But then again, if your main goal is to get the maximum number of kids into Harvard, Princeton, and Yale regardless of what they know, and the families can afford to pay $100,000+ per year on tutors, who really cares what they learn in class anyway?