60% more Toronto students have private tutors – in wealthy areas most of all

Part three of three – read the series here

Willis Zhou had a rough transition to high school: The work was hard, the environment uninspiring. His grades took a nosedive. “I just didn’t apply myself in class – if I was in class.”

Midway through Grade 10, his highest mark was 57 per cent.

So while he didn’t like his parents’ suggestion of a private tutor, he didn’t have much room to refuse.

Two years later, the 17-year-old is preparing to graduate and deciding between pursuing higher education in business or cooking. He goes to a tutor four days a week, for as much as four hours at a time.

Zhou is one of a growing number of Toronto teens whose parents are turning to private tutors to supplement a public education they feel isn’t up to the task.

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Rates of Toronto students reporting they’re helped by private tutors have grown by 60% over the last five years, Toronto school board data shows.

Eight per cent of students in grades 7 and 8 reported a private tutor in 2011, up from 5% in 2006. Tutoring rates for high school students rose from 7% to 11% in the same period.

The data, based on a student census of more than 70,000 high school students and 30,000 students in grades 7 and 8, was released to Global News by the Toronto District School Board under access-to-information laws.

“It’s on the rise,” says Andie McGeachie of Sylvan Learning, a tutoring chain with 11 locations in the GTA. In some cases, McGeachie said, a school will tell parents of students in need of extra help to seek it out through paid tutors – the board doesn’t have those supports.

“It’s more competitive to get into higher education. For the Toronto District School Board, it’s a recognition that individual learning plans are better for the students. For parents, they realize that there’s one teacher for 30 children, and they may seek extracurricular tutoring to complement their in-school learning.”

With production of newly qualified Ontario teachers far outstripping the available jobs, it’s possible some of those tutors are unemployed teaching graduates who need the work.

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“I have seen that anecdotally in some of their open-ended responses, but nothing that’s quantifiable,” says Frank McIntyre of the Ontario College of Teachers, who studies young teachers’ employment issues.

Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute had the highest rate of private tutoring of Toronto public high schools, at 24%, followed by North Toronto CI at 23%. Tutoring rates rose in 77 TDSB high schools, and fell in only 16. In 26 high schools, the percentage being tutored at least doubled in the five-year period.

Schools with the most tutored students were in higher-income census tracts and vice versa. The only large-scale exception was Agincourt, in north-central Scarborough, which has high tutoring rates and lower family incomes. (Agincourt is also an exception to the link between high-income neighbourhoods and high standardized test scores.)

Agincourt CI has the fourth-highest tutoring rate of 115 high schools, at 21%.

Rennie Dhani, who runs Agincourt Learning, figures he has double the students coming for in-person tutoring he had a few years ago. “There’s a boom in this industry.”

That boom could be due in part to the area’s demographics – many new Canadians with small financial means but big academic dreams for their children. “They expect the children to do well, so the minute they see that there are Cs on the report card, that’s when they realize the warning signs go up – that hey need the help,” Dhani said.

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But, he added, it’s also fuelled by a dissatisfaction with what the public system has to offer.

“The system is actually falling apart; that’s the reason there’s an increase in these things.”

But Education Minister Liz Sandals says the province’s schools are “doing a good job,” and that tutors can’t take credit for student achievement.

“The private tutoring companies have been around for a long time,” she said in an interview. “I think that what we’re seeing is that the schools are doing a good job, and that we see continuous improvement over the years, and that the results are trending up. I reject the idea that tutors are what’s making the difference. Schools are making the difference, in all sorts of neighbourhoods.”

Income-based differences in school test results have been “a fact of life for a very long time,” she said. “The gradient between the test results between people who are low-income and high income is pretty much universal all over the world. Ontario already has a smaller income-based gap in performance than virtually any other jurisdiction in the world.”

And Toronto school board senior superintendent Christopher Usih said the extra supports are there for students who can’t afford extra outside help.

“While we recognize that students in more affluent neighbourhoods may have access to some of those extra supports, we want to make sure that none of our students is put at a disadvantage by virtue of their economic situation,” he said.

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“We have students and parents who take advantage of private tutors, but it important to mention that we offer those supports in-school, so that every student gets the support they need. There may be families who decide to access private tutors because they want to make sure that the students are doing well and not falling behind in their work. We’re encouraged by the fact that, overall, students are taking advantage of all the supports we offer in schools.”

With files from Anna Mehler Paperny and Alan Carter, and research assistance from Elton Hobson

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With production of newly qualified Ontario teachers far outstripping the available jobs, could the rise in tutoring be driven by unemployed teaching graduates willing to take the work?

“I have seen that anecdotally in some of their open-ended responses, but nothing that’s quantifiable,” says Frank McIntyre of the Ontario College of Teachers, who studies young teachers’ employment issues.

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With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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