As a disgruntled Asian consumer of prep schools, specifically Mega Academy in Flushing, perhaps I hold a little bias towards paying money for extra teaching. There's little doubt that prep schools, and I don't mean an actual preparatory school, have taken control of the world of education. While public schools remain available to all, and free of charge, parents have begun sending their children to extra classes, whether it be for the SAT or in remedy of school subjects, such as chemistry. The external courses often come with hefty price tags. Costs can reach a few thousand dollars for two or three months worth of lessons. Parents, specifically Asians, think of this as an investment; put ten thousand dollars into prep schools, and when the child graduates with a PhD, reap in the rewards of a high salary. Unfortunately, I find these investments riskier than stocks. The first problem with attending prep schools stems from the parents themselves. Most mothers and fathers have no understanding of the education system. Parents who don't speak English have it even harder, as they don't truly comprehend why a child is struggling in school. The decision to send a child to prep school often comes from laziness. Of course, the ideology surrounding it is simple: drop two thousand dollars and watch exam scores and grades soar. But it's rarely ever such a linear relationship. If a student is struggling with a subject, and the idea is to remedy it by paying for more lessons, the first realization should be that the other students in the class won't be on the same level. Although they all might be taking an extra class in physics, there's different levels of such a complex science. Some people learn faster than others. In prep schools, every student signed up, say for high school physics, is put into one class. Each student is on a different level with varying learning curves. The result of this is the same as a class in a public school: the smarter students will prevail while the ones who came in confused, leave confused. Nothing is solved with this method. There isn't a way to curb a student to learn in a group setting with twenty other people.
That's the reason why prep schools do not work. People will see stories of students who "succeeded" by taking SAT courses, but the truth of the matter is, most of them were already talented from the start. If you're going to take a child in a top-tier public school, who's currently attending prep school, and compare him to another child from a mediocre public school attending prep school, the conclusion is as logical and obvious as it should be: the former student will do better than the latter. There is no magical formula presented within prep schools and it's not because a child didn't try hard enough. Sure, some students might work harder in these extra courses and homework, but it'll never vault someone from a tier 3 to a tier 1 college. The only true way of teaching is hiring a private tutor to individually help a child. If a student is struggling in a certain subject, he needs to learn from the beginning. Basic fundamentals won't be taught in a class with other paying students.
The end conclusion is obvious. Prep schools are an utter waste of money. Personally, I haven't seen my SAT score improve a reasonable amount for the cost of the "education." As a matter of fact, the marginal improvements I made were probably out of luck. But, of course, the majority of parents won't stop believing in these schools. It's the easiest and laziest ways for parents to be involved with the education of their children. So how do you help your child? Proper education from a young age comes a long way, but so does good habits, such as reading. Everything ties in at the end. Private tutors, though very expensive, are the best way to remedy any struggle in learning. Then, the parents can also help, offering what knowledge they already know. But whatever happens, don't bother tossing a few thousand dollars at a prep school.