Learning Centres vs. Shadow Educators

Aurini and Davies (2004) compare and contrast the shadow educator and learning centres in their paper, The Transformation of Private Tutoring: Education in a Franchise Form. They discuss the impacts franchising has on tutoring and education. The statistics (shown in the youtube video below) demonstrate the increasing demand for private tutoring in Ontario, Canada and North America. Aurini and Davies (2004) show that these learning centres are becoming highly diverse and beginning to offer an alternative to public schooling. Please watch the xtranormal animation to learn more about what learning centres offer.


Watch this youtube video of statistics showing the rise of tutoring in Ontario, Canada, and North America.

Xtranormal Animation

This is the first day at Pilvan Learning Centre for Jessica. Previously, she tutored children in her home. At Pilvan, she meets Troy who is happy to tell her a bit about what it's like to work there. The purpose of the animation is to identify the differences between shadow educators and learning centres.

Aurini and Davies (2004) show that learning centres are becoming more competitive with public schools because of their increasing diversity of programs they offer by their franchises. Essentially, they are becoming more and more school like. Since tutors are usually sought out for after school help, learning centres have had to target different groups to fill their spaces during the school day. Now learning centres are targeting four main groups (Aurini and Davies, 2004, p.427):

1. High school students who want to go to university in the States. These students can prepare for the entrance exams (SAT) during their prep. periods.
2. Preschoolers. "Beginning Reading" (Sylvan), "Little Readers" (Oxford) and "Fast Track Kids" (Academy for Mathematics and Science) are just some of the programs targeted at this age group.
3. Adult education and skill upgrading. Some of these programs are being taught online.
4. Some learning centres are opening full day private schools. They attract parents by offering small class sizes.

"It has been found that there is high demand for tutoring in countries that have post secondary entrance exams, major status differences among their post secondary institutions, and direct occupational rewards for entry into those institutions.” (Bray, 1999 as cited in Aurini and Davies, 2004, p.421) So why are Canadians feeling more and more pressure to seek out tutors and private schools?

-More parents are becoming involved in their children's education.
-University is becoming harder to get into.
-“Parents generally view private schools as having superior resources, smaller classes, and a more academic environment.” (Aurini and Davies, 2004, p.436)

Is the public education system pushing our students away?

Schools are regularly introducing new curriculum, more standardized tests at many grade levels, new report cards etc. These changes can cause confusion and unease. The founder of a math tutoring business believed that Ontario's new math curriculum has boosted business because of the fear it has invoked in parents and students. (Aurini and Davies, 2004)

Legitimizing Privatization

A case study of Sylvan Learning Centre partnering with the Baltimore School District

Sylvan Learning Centre partnered with the Baltimore public school system despite resistance surrounding privatization. Malen et. al. (2005) investigated how this was accomplished in their article, "Legitimating privatization: The politics of Sylvan Support Centers in the Baltimore Public School system". Even more importantly, Malen et al. (2005) suggest that this case highlighted the “complex process through which particular types of organizations might establish and maintain legitimacy in new markets and challenging environments.

In the 1990s the Baltimore Public School Board faced financial challenges like underfunding, lack of resources, poor student performance etc. How did Sylvan win a contract for providing tutor services for that district? Sylvan, important political figures, educators and the public all had a role to play.

Sylvan's Infiltration in the Baltimore School District

Watch this youtube video to learn how Sylvan Learning Centre got a foothold in the Baltimore School District.

At the end of the first year, the superintendant of the district used test score results to promote the program in a public campaign. So the program expanded. Sylvan hired school administrators for organizational positions, tailored programs to meet school needs, and provided staff development to teachers. In 2000, Sylvan was involved with almost thirty percent of Baltimore`s schools before the program ended.

Scott (2001) as cited by Malen et al. (2005) argued that private businesses need to meet one or more of the three pillars of social institutions as outlined to be accepted as legitimate partners with public organizations. Sylvan was able to align with all three pillars.

Regulatory Pillar
“An organization may be perceived as legitimate, if it's actions ar legal, authorized by relevant officials and subject to the 'suveillance and sanctioning power' (Scott, 2001 in Malen et al., 2005) of those officials.” Sylvan secured relationships with district officials, the mayor and the superintendent.

Normative Pillar
Does the organization model society's values, beliefs, and expectations? In this case, Sylvan tried to exemplify the values of educators and the surrounding community.

Cultural-Cognitive Pillar
“This pillar directs attention to widely and deeply held assumptions about social realities, roles and responsibilities. It exposes the taken-for-granted understandings that shape how actions and events are interpreted.” (Malen et al. 2005) For example, Syvan agreed to tutor a group of students instead of trying to reform the whole education system. Also, they were subject to reviews and accountability for their practices.

Sylvan's flexibility, important connections, publicity, educational values, employees and the fact they first began working with a small cohort, Sylvan was able to work in partnership and influence public domain. Are we in danger of this happening again? Could the Fraser Institute in British Columbia (or other examples of private business near you) continue to reform education in an exceeding amount?

The Educational Testing Service

The following is information taken from "Educational Testing Service" by Stephen Petrina in Encyclopedia of Curriculum Studies.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) was established in 1947 as a nonprofit corporation in the United States. At that time, 60 million tests were given to 20 million people. Currently their revenue is $900 million from 24 million test takers. The ETS produces tests like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), The National Teacher Exam (now called the Praxis Series), The Test of English as a Foreign language (TOEFL), and the Scholastic Aptitude/Achievement Tests (SAT). In 1993, Sylvan Learning Centre won an exclusive contract to administer the ETS' tests in their centres and landing contracts in city schools to standardize curriculum for the SAT and other tests throughout the 1990s. In 1980, Ralph Nader released report called The Reign of ETS: The corporation that makes up minds asking why the ETS is considered a nonprofit corporation. However, the ETS maintains that they are an independent non-profit research and educational organization.

The ETS defines their mission as follows:

"To advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research and related services. Our products and services measure knowledge and skills, promote learning and educational performance, and support education and professional development for all people worldwide."

Similarly in British Columbia, we have the Fraser Institute, an independent non-partisan research and educational organization that depends entirely on donations to operate. They rate schools based on performance on a standardized test called the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), a province-wide exam that measures reading, writing and numeracy of grade 4, 7, and 10 students. The ranking of schools published in the newspaper which is supposedly done to help parents choose a school for their children and to encourage those schools that get low rankings to improve. In 2010, "Burnaby's top five schools were all private. Edmonds Elementary, one of the city's poorest schools, was ranked last – 870 on a list of 876 schools province wide" (Moreau).

As one would image, many educators are against these type of tests and the publicity they receive.

"It’s the BC Liberal’s agenda to undermine public education, to go private," said Judy Richardson, president of the Peace River South Teachers’ Association (Bains).

“The Fraser Institute is a right-wing think tank and part of their agenda is to see an increase in private schools, and we’re firmly against that. We want to see the best public education system in the world,” said Beth Miller, Sea to Sky Teacher's Union President (Burke).

Why does the Fraser Institute Rank and Compare Schools?

The following is a video response by the Fraser Institute in defence of their practices.