Saturday, April 21, 2012

ScoreRite Academy: The Argument Against Education as Exclusive Private Enterprise

For a period of a few months, I took a job at a local tutoring company in Torrance, CA. ScoreRite academy has locations in Southern California and New York, but the Torrance location acts as a hub for many students from wealthy families who want their students to excel.

For day one, the operations were poorly run, to say the least. The director who was supposed to interview me arrived late -- and her assistant also arrived late. Their tardiness was an abated occurence for nearly every session I had with them. Making a point about professionalism, their lack of direct candor and openness with me and their other at-will employees was very
 distressing. In order to qualify as a tutor, they had me take an old version of the AP United States History exam, one of the few College Board Tests on which I scored a 5 -- the highest score.

After I finished the scantron multiple-choice version, the director verified the answers. According to her evaluation, I had earned a 78%. I was surprised, considering that I had an unshakable assurance in the answers which I had selected. Immediately, I challenged these results going over each question one by one. To her shock and my dismay, she had used the wrong answer key. After correcting her mistakes, I showed her twice-over my capacity to teach the subject -- 91%, and this after having taken the test over a decade ago.

The disorganization of this education organization should have been enough to dissuade me from coming back, but I stayed on, happy to have demonstrated an uncommon efficicacy for this work, even correcting the director's poor filing skills.

The majority of kids that I worked with at ScoreRite were Asian-Americans. Some of them drove as far as Fullerton to come to a 9am teaching session. Most of the kids were not in the mood to study for the SATs, especially on a Saturday morning.

The high-stakes testing environment eating away at young people's time and peace is having some disastrous consequences, including their lack of respect for their elders. AP students, and high achieveing youth in general, manifest at times a petulant attitude toward others, convinced that getting A's and B's in high stakes courses entitles them to be rude and boorish in order to get what they need in this world. A parent, a teacher, a school leader must tell these young people -- once you get to the top academically, socially, professionally, there is not thing there. All the good grades in school will not make the grade in this life.

Still, trying explaining that to a young adult who is trying to get into the best school in order to impress Mom and Dad, make lots of money, and push around power and prestige. The first student I tutored, though, had a level head, of sorts. He really did not need the extra training, but his parents insisted that he take extra study courses to prepare for the AP US History exam. A soft-spoken student, he commanded enough self-respect to recognize that I had high expecations. "You're strict, and I like that," he told me. "My other tutors want to be my frienbd, but you want to get down to business, and I like that."I appreciated his sentiment, but his conduct suggested otherwise. Often he did not complete the assignments which I gave him. Once, he came to a tutoring session tired and unprepared. I got paid for the day, but we did not cover anything to prepare him for the test. In efffect, he just need to engage in more practice, which he could have done without attend the test prep center.

It was my empty notion to take on another assignment, teaching students how to do better on the SAT. This exam has been transformed significantly compared to what it was like when I took the exam. I had the skill, the will, but not the thrill to take on so extensive an assignment. The students were not a cooperative bunch, either, complaining at length when things did not go their way. Some of them just had a bad attitude about the whole thing, having to wake up on a Saturday morning and prepare for the SAT. In this setting I learned one of the most important elements to good teaching/: teacher authority. Teachers cannot be at the beck and call of the tastes, tides,  and temper tantrums of the student. Education for the student cannot be dictated by the consumer. Part of learning includes discipline and respect for the teacher, a respect which the teacher does not have to earn, but has to command, with a due degree of support from leadership. Education is for the student, but it cannot be dictated, designed, or determined by the student.

Yet in these private tutoring agencies, kids are entitled to complain. A teacher who wants to get tough, get real, and get kids motivated to doing more than they want, well they have to get with the students' program, or get lost. A school cannot be run like that. ScoreRite caters to the kids, not to young adults who need to learn something. Because of the profit motive as bottom line, any complaints, any unhappy costumers, and a teacher gets pushed to the wall or pushed out.

One young lady came in for SAT II US History Training. However, she was taking the regular course. Convinced that she was a bright and excellent student because she was getting an A in that class, she wanted to get a little extra help to take the SAT II. She was not standardized test-taking material. If there is any course on high school campuses that underserves

After three weeks, it was apparent that she did not have the skills to do well on the SAT -- even the College Board strongly urges potential test-takers to take a college survey class in order to pass, like AP US History. Regular US History just will not cut it. Still, at the time I held my tongue and held up my hopes, in part because I wanted a job to go to every week. And I liked History!

She did not do very well on the test at all, suffice to say. Testing companies will not tell students outright that they do not have the training or the content base to do well on the exam. Education has to be funded from an indirect source, perhaps, in order to empower the providers to tell the truth without hurting their bottom line.

The SAT I class was not a success, either. The lack of preparation from the students, coupled with the meadering leadership and low profit all put pressure on everyone, including myself. Since I was pretty much an at-will employee, it made very little difference how well I prepared or how poorly the students prepared -- if they did not like me, then they could tattle on me, and I would be let go. And that's pretty much what happened. The liack of support all around for the teacher is killing our educational capacities for the students, many of whom, no matter how smart or wealthy, are not commanding any respect for themselves, their peers, their parents, or other adults in their lives. The whole scenario is a shameful outrage all around.

ScoreRite Academy exemplifies some of the worst elements of treating education as a private matter. Children are consumers, in a sense, but the servce that schools and teachers provide is not just a matter of trade. The training that students receive is not always welcome. Most kids do not want to be told what they have to learn. Part of education is that a student has to receive discipline, and no one wants to be corrected. If the students are the primary consumers, and they do not like a strict teacher, then you can be sure that these students will just complainto parents, the parents will raise a fuss with the academic directors, and then the teacher gets the brunt of it. Either a teacher has to soften his stance, which means letting the kid get away with everything, or the teacher gets fired.

Private companies, not private schools necessarily, are not effective when it comes to providing a quality education. In only one instance, a junior enrolled at a local prep school, commented that he liked that I was strict with him. Most tutors, he told me, were more interested in being his friend and taking things easy. I wanted to get things done, and so did he. He took the AP US History exam seriously, and he wanted to do well. Most students are forced to go, and the parents expect the company to wave a magic wand and produce results, like a 750 out of 800 on the SAT.

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