mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
“Cram” Schools: Not Just for Tiger Moms Anymore

Americans are flocking to “cram schools”, math test prep schools once primarily led and attended by Asian and Russian immigrants. The NYT reports:

It’s no surprise to the average New York parent that so-called cram schools, once the cultural domain of Chinese-, Korean- and Russian-American students, have gained traction with non-Asian parents hoping to grab slots in competitive gifted programs and coveted middle and high schools by improving their children’s test scores.

The test-preparation industry is expected to generate $840.4 million in revenues in 2013, according to a recently released report by the market research firm IBISWorld. That figure is expected to climb to $876.9 million by 2018. Spurring the trend, experts say, are the very obsessions that drive New York parents to distraction: the increasing competitiveness of the college entrance process, the introduction of more rigorous national curriculum standards, and a lack of faith in local public schools.

It’s far from uncommon for Asian and Russian immigrants, who often see a gap between the education they received and the ones they’re children are getting, to want to close that gap. The new thing here is the fact that non-immigrant parents are also sending their kids to these cram schools.

We don’t see this trend stopping anytime soon. The Fordist approach to K-12 education is getting creakier by the day, pushing more and more concerned parents to look for out-of-the-box alternatives. To the extent that social policy grants parents more control over their children’s education, expect this trend to accelerate.

This is good news for the tutors and “cram schools” the Times describes, which can cater the specific needs of individual students more easily than their traditional big-box competitors. While we don’t think these math-intensive programs are for everyone, there are some students whom they fit to a “t.” We should be doing what we can to make sure more students have access to them.

Features Icon
show comments
  • johngbarker

    Do cram schools really increase mathematical knowledge or just prepare students to improve performance on a small sample of items that can fit into a an exam of an hour or two? Colleges really should give students an audit test to determine if the knowledge represented by the ACT or SAT represents real intellectual growth or is just score inflation.

  • Andrea Fremantle

    “Russian immigrants”

    Russian-Jewish immigrants who may speak Russian but don’t regard themselves as Russians but as Zionists or Jews.

  • Anthony

    Can a reasonabie person conclude that cramming may devote too much time to drill and test preparation (without due consideration that the character of an academic skill remains constrained by limitations of working memory)?

  • Anthony

    Note: I am a different Anthony than the other poster.

    I teach at an esl school in South Korea, and I think Professor Mead is trying to shoehorn the facts into his preferred narrative. Asian cram schools are quite fordist. The students need to memorize as much as possible, and testing happens constantly. Not that this is bad, as the results are pretty impressive.

    “It’s far from uncommon for Asian and Russian immigrants, who often see a gap between the education they received and the ones they’re children are getting, to want to close that gap.”

    While this is no doubt true, keep in mind that math academies are popular in Asia itself, where the public school math curriculum is good, so you shouldn’t imply that parents are going to these cram schools in America only because the public school math classes are purportedly bad.

    In Korea, there is no such thing as a math curriculum that is good enough; parents expect their kids to be two years ahead of the public school curriculum.

    It’s also worth noting that familes – and individuals for that matter – of modest means can get online math tutorials for free on Khan Academy. Smart youngsters can learn anything they want now on the Khan academy website. Thanks to his videos on finance – Sal used to work for one – high i.q. students could theoretically be able to work at a hedge fund by the time they enter high school.

  • charlesrwilliams

    Math instruction in American schools has never been good. It has gone downhill with the general decline in academic standards and with the implementation of constructivist curricula. Mastering complex ideas in mathematics requires the cognitive space created by quick and flawless execution of procedures. This can only be accomplished with lots of structured practice.

  • charlesrwilliams

    The skill set necessary for higher level mathematics is well defined and can easily be tested. This means that teaching to a well-constructed test is a good idea in math. History is another matter.

    Structured practice to the level of automaticity in mathematical procedures is absolutely essential to acquiring this skill set.

    It is very rare to find a student who is calculator-dependent with any conceptual knowledge of mathematics. Our schools foster calculator dependency. Therefore, classroom instruction must be supplemented in most US schools if students are to succeed in science and technology fields. Asian and Russian parents understand this.

  • KennethKaniff

    “who often see a gap between the education they received and the ones they’re children are getting”

    It’s “their,” not “they’re.”

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service