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Tutoring Jobs of the Future

New York City’s hyper-competitive public schools are infamous for the stress they inspire in parents, who spend thousands of dollars and lose months of sleep to ensure that their children win acceptance to the top schools. Clever entrepreneurs in New York are taking advantage of this situation by providing expanded tutoring programs geared specifically towards the state standardized tests that these schools use as admissions criteria. Even those who can scarcely afford it are finding room in their budgets for the extra classes, which can cost well more than $100 a session. The New York Times reports:

[C]ompetition for top middle schools has intensified as more families choose to remain in the city and others find themselves unable to afford private schools, and performance on fourth- and fifth-grade standardized tests is crucial to getting into one of those schools. So many parents — some wealthy, some not — are now shelling out hundreds and even thousands of dollars for tutors and for courses like the eight-week Saturday morning boot camp in TriBeCa. And that is on top of test preparation that almost all elementary schools now provide in class.

This is a relatively new phenomenon in America, but other countries have been at it already. Competition for top schools is now pushing American parents to do what parents in China, Japan, and Korea have been doing for a long time now.

Like the push toward charter schools and homeschooling, the tutoring phenomenon fits into the broader U.S. trend of parents’ taking more control over their children’s education. Educators worried about job security during the decline of the big box school should take note: Parental anxieties in this increasingly competitive educational landscape represent a potential growth industry for those willing to tap into them.

If you want to know how Americans will earn a living when the world’s manufacturing requires fewer and fewer hands, and routine white collar work is being automated and outsourced, look at fields like education. If the price is right, and sometimes even if it isn’t, demand for these services is going to grow.

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  • Anthony

    “Competition for top schools is now pushing American parents to do what parents in China, Japan, and Korea have been doing for a long time now.” To extrapolate WRM, the intense middle school pressure projects parental desire to access elite universities and as a spillover effect perhaps entreprenurial opportunity.

  • thibaud

    A bit more complicated than that, Anthony. Tutors excel at patient explanation reinforced by repetition and drilling.

    Repetitive exercises are anathema to many American parents, whatever their ideology or socio-economic status, because of decades of cultural stigmatizing of “rote learning” as somehow hostile to individual achievement and even democracy.

    In reality, as parents in Asia (and also those raised in the communist systems of Eastern Europe) know well, it is impossible for anyone of any age to master non-intuitive subjects such as arithmetic, algebra, grammar, historical timelines and fact sets, chemistry etc without relentless repetition and rote exercises. Not that drilling is sufficient to become educated, by any stretch, but it is a necessary precondition for mastery of any academic subject.

    As the Russians say, “pvtoreniye, mat’ ucheniye” (repetition is the mother of learning”). Asians know this, as do hebraic scholars, and for that matter, music teachers and sports coaches. But for some reason, Americans don’t want repetition in their schools any more.

    Given that drilling is now all but absent from American primary and secondary education, the only place where a parent can get an outside party to perform the difficult chore of teaching a child to learn his multiplication tables, or algebra, or parts of speech etc is through a competent private tutor.

  • Jamespetrelli

    ^^The Romans said it before the Russians, thibaud:

    Repetitio est mater studiorum.

  • Anthony

    @2: Thibaud, I am not attempting to dismiss complexity of competence gap in K-12 education vis-a-vis OECD countries. My point relative to Quick Take’s premise remains middle school tutoring explosion (intimated by WRM) only secondarily avails entrepreneurial opportunities; as I read synopsis, the motivating factor is academic selection post secondary and if acquisition comes by tutoring then innovative entrepreneurs can provide requite services….

  • Anthony

    Thibaud, I also concur that content is skill and skill is content and that the acquisition of academic skills (such as math problem solving, etc.) cannot be left to providential thinking.

  • Anthony

    Correction: should be requisite services…

  • Jim.

    And so the price of a top-quality degree increases even further, as the price to buy in rises, further reducing its marginal value.

    (That’s a bad thing.)

    The only good thing to come of this on a large scale is if these tutors explore those new educational strategies and avenues of education reform that VM advocates in its other posts.

    That has interesting general implications… if we have terrible intractable problems, keep throwing otherwise unemployed minds at them (in pursuit of their daily bread).

  • thibaud

    Not necessarily, Jim. In most metropolitan areas it’s pretty easy to find a good Russian or other E. European emigre math tutor for a very affordable rate. Probably true for the hard sciences as well, for HS-aged kids.

  • Kenny

    Thibaud is right on the money — repetition and drill set the foundation for more advanced learning. How can it be otherwise?

    The irony here is that the American public schools turn their collective noses up at repetition & drill — at least when it comes to academics. But our government schools practice it with a vengeance when it comes to sports.

    And a further irony is that sports is where the American public school might actually excel in international competition.

    You would think that the drips running our schools would take notice, but alas, they don’t.

  • Luke Lea

    Surely you jest.

  • Greg Q

    “and performance on fourth- and fifth-grade standardized tests is crucial to getting into one of those schools”

    Really? Can these parents get a life, please? And therefore allow their kids to have one?

    “My child must get into the elite 6th grade public school, or else her life is ruined!”

    Get a grip, people.

  • thibaud

    Kenny – it’s a deep cultural problem, and a uniquely American one. The private schools that emphasize repetition and basic skills attract an overwhelmingly Asian, to a lesser extent East European, clientele. Even those American-born parents who choose private schools do not want repetition and drilling.

    We like to comfort ourselves in pretending that American creativity, ingenuity etc make the difference, but not if you lack fundamental skills.

    We recognize the absurdity of a young would-be Michael Jordan who expects to get by on his vertical leaping ability and other acrobatics when he hasn’t learned how to dribble with his left hand, or pick and roll, or shoot accurately. But for some weird cultural reason, we don’t want our kids to put in the hours needed to learn math or grammar or history or chemistry.

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