Sandra Stotsky is professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas.
UPDATED NOVEMBER 10, 2010, 7:30 PM
At first, the apparent lack of independent studies on why parents choose to have their high school children tutored is surprising. By independent, I mean studies by researchers unconnected to tutoring or testing companies -- and with no axe to grind or interest in promoting the services or products of these companies.
Commentaries in newspapers, journals, or blogs point to two major reasons for the growth of this multibillion-dollar industry. Parents have long hired tutors to help struggling children -- especially children with learning disabilities -- to pass a required course. They have also long hired tutors to prepare them for the tests they must take for admission to a post-secondary institution.
Why are high schools not offering the math training that parents are paying outsiders to provide?
Increasing competition to get into selective colleges (more students eligible for about the same number of openings) has encouraged parents to give their children the possibility of improving their scores on a college admissions test. And the fact that students must now pass a test in mathematics (among other subjects) to receive a high school diploma has undoubtedly encouraged more parents of students with poor study skills or test-taking habits to hire a tutor. However, neither phenomenon implies a more difficult high school curriculum.
In fact, a new reason for the growth of supplementary programs suggests the opposite problem and why education faculty may not be interested in researching reasons for their growth. The location of and enrollment at some of the flourishing after-school programs in mathematics that have sprung up in the past two decades suggest they are a response to the deficiencies mathematically literate parents perceive in their public school's mathematics coursework and pedagogy.
For example, the Russian School of Mathematics in Newton, Mass., which enrolls about 1,800 students from Newton and surrounding suburban communities in its after-school and weekend classes, now has satellite schools in several other Massachusetts communities with reputations for academically strong high school curricula, e.g., Lexington, Marblehead and Andover.
The online ad of a multipurpose tutor and former high school math teacher in Fayetteville, Ark. (another community with a reputation for an academically strong high school ) makes the point a different way: "I do remedial, reinforcement, and enrichment classes for basic math (K-12), algebra, and geometry."
The question that should be asked is why our public schools are not offering the mathematics training that parents are increasingly paying outsiders to provide to their academically motivated children.