To begin with, let me reiterate that I have run an SAT prep company for 23 years. Obviously, I believe that taking an SAT course is beneficial, but I’m sure I have some bias. However, since SAT prep is such a big business, I think it’s reasonable to assume that most people agree that it’s helpful.
I discovered many years ago that, not only is private SAT tutoring more effective than group instruction; it is vastly so. I found that score increases for my private students dwarfed those of group students, and I have offered only private tutoring since. Of course, making that decision also meant that I’ve made less money than I would have.
So I chose quality over profit. How altruistic of me! But hold on. Private tutoring is more expensive for the student, even if the teacher earns less per hour. And that means that only families that can afford private tutoring have access to the largest score increases. Is that unfair?
My best answer is: sort of. I’ve thought about this issue for a long time, and there are all sorts of easy rationalizations that can cloud one’s thinking. “I’m helping students. I can’t spend my time thinking of those I can’t help.” “That’s how the world works.” And there’s always “if I don’t do it, someone else will.”
But it isn’t hard to find the fallacies in any of those statements. So let’s look a little deeper.
First of all, I want to make it clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with SAT prep per se. When SAT teaching as a business took off in the 1980’s, there was plenty of backlash. Part of that negativity arose from The College Board/ETS’s long-standing claim that the SAT couldn’t be taught. When change is afoot, complaints are never far behind. But clearly the SAT can be taught, just as the MCAT, LSAT, or GMAT can, and you don’t hear a lot of complaining about prep courses for those tests. But in those days, a lot of students simply lacked access to effective SAT courses, and they found themselves at a disadvantage.
Today, a student can easily find an SAT course, regardless of where he lives. Online courses are an option. Some students rely only on prep books. Very few go in “cold.” So I think we can put “prep is evil” thinking to bed. If everyone has access, and it’s effective, what could be wrong?
No – the question isn’t whether SAT teaching is unethical; it’s whether more effective, expensive teaching is. And that’s exactly what I’ve been offering for over two decades. To be sure, not every student we’ve taught has made a mammoth score increase. But our average increase is much larger than that of other SAT teachers in the area (brag, brag!), and it is easy to argue that we’re merely giving an advantage to those who have the bucks to spend.
As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t have a definitive, self-serving answer to this question. I am motivated by offering the highest quality education that I can, and I have employed a half-baked solution to this moral dilemma. Yes – our tutoring costs more than most SAT classrooms. But we also charge a lot less than many other private tutors do. That makes our course available to the middle class, even if it’s more of a burden that a group program would be.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I’ve come up with. Thoughts?