Half of parents give Ontario schools a grade of A or B, while more than one in three families is paying for private tutoring for their children, says a new survey of education issues.
“Tutoring is more popular than it has been in the past,” said co-author Arlo Kempf, adding that since the survey, researchers have taken a closer look at the numbers. They found that “parents who identify as middle- or upper-class are more likely to be using that tutoring, where in the past it was undertaken by different socio-economic groups more evenly.
“Now it’s more the purview (of the affluent), and it’s something that could mobilize an existing advantage in education, and something we need to watch.”
The report shows that since 2002, about 25 per cent of parents have purchased tutoring for their children. In 2015 the proportion rose to 35 per cent. Kempf cautions that sampling error could mean the true difference is smaller. However, the one-in-three statistic is in line with other studies on the use of tutors by Canadian families.
The survey of public opinion, by Kempf and Doug Hart of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, has been conducted since 1978. It asks questions about topics ranging from support for spending on education to satisfaction with schools. Some 753 respondents took part.
This year, the survey was conducted in the spring, amid work-to-rule action by public elementary teachers that cancelled standardized testing, full-out strikes by high school teachers at three Ontario boards and a growing controversy about the new sex-ed curriculum.
Still, it found that satisfaction with the education system overall remains fairly high, with 60 per cent of the public and 70 per cent of parents saying they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied. There was strong support for increased funding to education. “Despite the turmoil, there’s continued confidence,” Kempf added.
Co-author Hart called it a “good report card” and noted that even small changes in findings indicate “areas to flag.”
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“Education opinion in a lot of areas is very stable, and when you see something change… it’s definitely something to look at.”
As for tutoring, he said in the past it has been “class neutral, and this year, for the first time, it’s not.” In previous years, lower-income families might have purchased less tutoring or different services, “and people who had more money might have purchased more or higher quality tutoring… but it is interesting that the proportion of (wealthier) parents purchasing tutoring may have gone up.
He said it’s likely a reflection “of the competitiveness of parents trying to get the best position for their kids.”
Kate Murray, who owns two Mathnasium franchises in Toronto, said that since opening her first location, in Forest Hill, more than three years ago, “we now have well over 100 students who come regularly every month” to that location. “I’ve really seen it grow. And teachers now refer students to us.”
She believes the growth is because students, and their parents, are struggling with math — and provincial test scores have educators calling it an area of concern.
Annie Kidder of advocacy group People for Education said a national report a few years ago found it was students with higher marks who attended tutoring.
“I would take any changes (in tutoring) with a grain of salt… there have been parents purchasing tutoring, but it’s parents who can afford it, and they tend to be kids who are already doing well in school.”
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Carolyn Gallagher, a long-time teacher who now runs the free online Homework Help at TVO, said parents in general “feel less equipped to help their children” with math, and many have signed up for web resources and tutorials through the service.
She said 25,000 students in Grades 7 to 10 across the province currently use TVO’s online tutoring services, provided by certified teachers.