- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

When Casey Ravitz graduated in June from Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, she had spent 14 years in three private schools in New York City. For eight of those years, she had kept weekly appointments with $100-an-hour Manhattan tutors.

“I had a lot of friends who were being tutored, too,” says Miss Ravitz, 18, an investment banker’s daughter who moved to Chicago last month to attend DePaul University. “My last tutor wouldn’t let me get away with anything. She was the most helpful person I’ve ever met.”

In New York, where tuition at some private schools will top $30,000 this fall, parents are spending thousands of dollars more on one-on-one instruction. Some teens need extra coaching — which can cost more than $500 an hour — to get through chemistry or Franz Kafka.

Others seek help to nab the A’s required for a seat at Harvard or Princeton universities, says Lisa Jacobson, 47, who started Inspirica Ltd. in 1983 in Manhattan and now employs more than 100 tutors.

About 75 percent of private high school graduates in New York have had some tutoring, says Sandy Bass, editor of Private School Insider, a New York newsletter published five times a year. Rising demand for homework help, which is distinct from prepping for the SAT college entrance exam, has led the city’s tutoring companies to add teachers and services.

Some also are jacking up prices. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Allison Baer, 32, who has a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, charges $225 an hour for helping clients as young as 12 with writing skills. Ms. Baer had more business in this year’s first half than in all of last year, she says, and will raise her fee by 20 percent next month.

Many parents feel pushed into hiring tutors to offer their children the same advantages as peers, says Boston child psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, whose books include “CrazyBusy” and “The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness.” Pressuring children to perform can quash their long-term interest in learning, he says.

“It’s madness,” Dr. Hallowell says. “We are living in an age of incredible anxiety about children maintaining the lifestyle that their parents have achieved.”

Ms. Bass says the boom in tutoring is powered in part by Wall Street bonuses, which have been at record levels in the past three years. Bankers at securities firms such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. cashed a record $21.5 billion in bonus checks last year, according to the New York state comptroller’s office.

Ms. Bass also credits fierce competition for spots in elite high schools and colleges as the baby boom generation’s teenagers create their own demographic bulge. From 2000 to 2004, the number of children ages 10 to 19 in Manhattan jumped 18.7 percent to 128,817, according to U.S. Census data.

The city’s 87 independent schools, meanwhile, had 42,320 students last year, 11 percent more than in 2000, the New York State Association of Independent Schools says.

“Kids are taking harder courses and filling their schedules with things that help them stand out,” Ms. Bass says. “The tutor comes in to help them.”

When it comes to pressuring students to achieve in school, New York is the epicenter, says Lloyd Thacker, a former admissions officer at the University of Southern California and founder of the Education Conservancy, an advocacy group in Portland, Ore.

“Tutoring is the symptom, and the fact there is so much of it says there is a sickness,” he says. “If past trends hold up, it’s likely to spread.”

Miss Ravitz, an only child who grew up on the Upper East Side, was tutored as a 7-year-old at Trevor Day School on West 88th Street. By the time she graduated from Poly Prep, she had had three more tutors. One helped with essay writing; another, called in when Miss Ravitz was struggling in 10th-grade French, steered her to B+’s in the class, she says.

“The tutors were able to help her to buckle down,” says her mother, Debbie Dunn, 52. Her daughter’s final Poly Prep report card, with two A-‘s and one B-, hung on Mrs. Dunn’s refrigerator as she helped her pack for college.

Many private schools have loaded their curricula with university-level courses that demand hours of homework from students every night.

At Horace Mann School in the Bronx, for example, an honors physics class that covers mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism focuses on teaching students how to prepare scientific papers. At St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, one 12th-grade English class studies novels by Honore de Balzac, Feodor Dostoevski, Henry Fielding, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon and Virginia Woolf.

“The pressure is real,” says Edith Spiegel, whose daughter, now 20, was tutored while attending the Dalton School on the Upper East Side.

Individual instruction has ramped up all over the U.S. in the past five years, especially in California, Illinois and Texas, says Sandi Ayaz, executive director of the National Tutoring Association (NTA) in Lakeland, Fla.

Her organization is based in a state where home-schooled students are spurring demand for tutors. NTA membership, which includes private tutors, companies and others involved in administering educational services, jumped 62 percent to 4,900 this year and has risen almost sixfold since 2001, Miss Ayaz says.

In New York, the price and quantity of tutoring surpass other regions of the country, where services go for about $15 to $25 an hour, she says.

“New York is on steroids, as usual.”

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