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School board's tutor fees under fire
'It's simply a parent's choice,' says education minister

Jan 25, 2007
Teresa Latchford, Staff Writer

Tutoring is a business that feeds on the fear some parents have that their children won't succeed, says one York Region parent.

This comes as the debate continues over whether or not the York Region District School Board should be offering a traditional private sector service -- after-school tutoring at a fee of $190. For the price, the service provides 16 hours of extra help in literacy and math to students in grades 4 to 6.

Thornhill parent Krista Olins is concerned the board itself has created a need for this type of help.

"There is this push that you have to excel," Mrs. Olins said. "If tutoring is needed so badly, we need to seriously look at the curriculum and how it is being delivered to students."

The curriculum changes so often, teachers and students have a difficult time keeping up, she said. And the sheer volume of material teachers have to cover leaves them with little time to ensure all students have a good understanding of the concepts, particularly in subjects such as math, where repetition is important, she said.

"It (tutoring for a fee) is just wrong and it smacks of the board not offering what is needed in the classroom or for extra help," Mrs. Olins said.

Not so, says Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president Regine Baker.

"Basically, if parents want the tutoring, they pay. If not, they don't," she said. "The board is just fulfilling a demand from the parents."

Ms Baker said the provincial government is to blame for the $190 fee, since there is not enough funding to cover the cost of such a service. She agrees there should be no charge to students who need extra help.

"It is quite probable that B-average students are looking to upgrade to an A," Ms Baker said. "Parents are looking to have their child at the top of the class."

However, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, said that since the Liberal government came into office, the school board has received more than $200 million in funding, with $418,000 earmarked for tutoring and extra-needs services.

"Anything above and beyond what is offered in the classroom, such as tutoring, is simply a parent's choice," Ms Wynne said.

She cited the example of offering arts and physical education programs as part of the curriculum, but some parents still choose to pay for extra curricular sports activities or enrol their children in private music lessons.

Students in the Learning Advantage program are not at-risk, they are students who want to enhance what they have learned already, she added.

"Parents think they will get more bang for their buck with a tutor, but it's just not true," Ms Baker said. "What is true is that some students just don't learn well in large groups, but a charge shouldn't be put on to help them."

York Region tutor Nora Bankert said her clientele is a mix of at-risk students and students who want to up their grade from a B to an A.

"In the large classrooms, teachers don't have time to give every single child individual attention," she said. "Most parents seek the help of a tutor so their child does get that individual attention."

In the hustle and bustle of today's society, parents may not get home from work until late and there is no one monitoring their homework, Ms Bankert added. And the curriculum has changed so much parents may have difficulty offering homework help.

"Tutoring offers step-by-step lessons at a pace the student decides," she said. "It just helps students get a better understanding of what they are learning."

Progressive Conservative education critic Frank Klees said he is concerned for the families who are not capable of affording the fee and sees this as the beginning of a two-tier education system.

"Public education promises that every student has equal access to a quality education and that every student will receive the remedial support he or she requires without a user fee being imposed on parents, especially under the pressure of a teacher recommendation," he said. "The question Dalton McGuinty must answer is why public education is failing our students in these early years?"

York Region students deserve better than what is being provided, he added. A fair and equitable education system that offers equal access for all students is the mandate for public education, he said.

Officials at the school board said students from low-income families will receive subsidies to offset the cost of the program if the help if recommended by a classroom teacher, board spokesperson Ross Virgo said.

"The intent of the pilot project is to provide an additional option for enhancing and extending what students are already learning in the classroom," Mr. Virgo said. "It is not to replace the remedial help offered in the schools everyday, in the classroom and at recess."

The board is simply providing a service parents were already looking for from private tutoring companies or learning centers at a fraction of the price, he added.

The pilot program ends in May and is under review by the board.

More information about Learning Advantage: or 905-883-0047

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