"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, June 12, 2006

SAT Scores for Sale to the Highest Bidder

With Manhattan test prep boutiques promising as much as a 400 point bumps on Caitlin's and Carter's SATs, Upper East Side parents are coughing up as much as $25,000 for tutoring. That right, 25k. Here's a couple of clips from a fascinating blog entry by Eliot Shrefer, tutor, at Huffington Post:

In New York City, a year of SAT tutoring can carry a price tag of $25,000, all to secure a competitive edge over middle class America.

In my business – SAT tutoring – you get used to sighs. A client’s mother frets over the sheer amount of work her daughter has to do to get her score up until she reaches the resigned moment, when she will sigh and observe that no one thought you could prepare for the SAT back when she took it – it was “untutorable.” Bemoaning all the work her child is going through to prepare, she’ll assume the change is generational, that today’s youth are under more pressure to achieve on the test, that there now exists a $310 million-a-year test prep industry where there was none before. . . .

But tutoring doesn’t raise scores just by dint of the hours the tutors spend at their students’ desks and dining room tables. The top tutoring firm also requires its students take a practice SAT each weekend of their spring semester, at a charge of $115 an administration. The firm rents out a high school and administers an authentic SAT under real conditions – accurate timing, breaks, a proctor in the room. Students ideally take between thirteen and seventeen tests during their junior year, and at 3.5 hours an administration that means cramming a total of a hundred extra hours into a junior spring already overburdened with college essays and advanced placement exams. . . .

Students raised on Park Avenue are born into family situations in which overachieving merely maintains the status quo, and therefore the market is primed for anyone offering services that provide an edge on local peers. Tutoring follows the lucrative philosophy of advertising: if you can manufacture a need, people with disposable resources will find ways to fill it. In zip-codes as wealthy and competitive as Manhattan’s, it isn’t hard to figure that someone would eventually find a way to quantify college admissions, and turn that numbers game to a profit. But the wealthy aren’t competing only against the wealthy, but also against those with less disposable income: the rest of us. The extent upper-crust Manhattan goes to in order to get top-college spots for its students is largely unknown to the rest of America – one can only wonder at the outrage that slumbers in the rest of the country, waiting to be uncovered.

Any more questions about the fairness of the SAT?

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