Educational Entrepreneurialism in the Private Tutoring Industry: Balancing Profitability with the Humanistic Face of Schooling *

By Aurini, Janice | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, November 2004 | Go to article overview
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Educational Entrepreneurialism in the Private Tutoring Industry: Balancing Profitability with the Humanistic Face of Schooling *


Aurini, Janice, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


IN THE PAST, TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL AUTHORITY was built on the notion that educating children demanded the guidance of trained experts. Similar to other professions, institutional arrangements emerged to organize and co-ordinate the training of teachers' work and were seen to promise a degree of quality control, in addition to insulating teachers from external competition. These rights of "passage" include teacher colleges, licensing bodies, teacher federations and boards of education. While teachers have never enjoyed the same degree of professional autonomy and authority as more established, "full" professionals such as doctors, they have nevertheless been traditionally constructed as authority figures over educational concerns. This recognition is exemplified by their protected status in many government-sponsored education systems and teacher training programs. Achieving professional or even semi-professional status also often implies a "moral" component by signaling an adherence to the practice of social betterment and public service (Brint, 1994; Durkheim, 1957; Freidson, 2001; Larson, 1977; Lockhart, 1991; Lortie, 1977).

In recent years, however, the education sector has become increasingly informed by a market logic as governments attempt to respond to school choice movements and the intensified demand for education (see Freidson, 2001). For market advocates, public schools monopoly status and bureaucratized form and the presence of teachers' professional associations foster apathy and mediocrity to the detriment of education consumers (Persell, 2000; Stein, 2001). Additionally, since bureaucratized professions typically receive the lion's share of tax dollars, public schools are also criticized for constraining choice by limiting the range of publicly funded options (Witte, 2000). Beyond education, this market logic has increasingly shaped the nature of work in a variety of public organizations such as hospitals, universities and social service agencies in an attempt to rationalize their performance and naturally "weed out" inefficient agents through competition and stark performance indicators (see Freidson, 2001; see Leicht and Fennell, 2001: 22; Persell, 2000: Stein, 2001).

This context has provided fertile ground for educational entrepreneurialism, witnessed by the sharp growth of consultants and test prep companies, private preschools, tutoring businesses, private schools, proprietary colleges and corporate training ventures (Aurini and Davies, 2004a; Davies and Quirke, 2004; Monahan et al., 1994; Sweet and Gallagher, 1999). Supporters of school choice initiatives claim that eliminating public schools' monopoly status will lead to greater equality of choice for parents, improved student performance and greater cost-effectiveness (Ball, 1993; Brown, 1995; Brown and Hunter, 1995; Johnston, 1996; Simon and Lovrich 1996: 666). Consequently, "experts" are no longer limited to the teaching, medical or religious community (Wrigley, 1989; Zelizer, 1985), but now include psychologists, social workers, media representatives and self-proclaimed childrearing or education specialists, in addition to an array of private businesses that engage in the education marketplace.

This paper examines these processes by focussing on one exemplary case study: private tutoring entrepreneurs in Ontario, Canada. Tutoring has evolved dramatically from its origins. In the past, tutoring in North America consisted of a peppering of "moonlighting" tutors and "test prep" companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review. This form of tutoring has sometimes been referred to as "shadow education" to denote the ways in which it mimics the formal school system by providing services that closely follow or complement public-schooling offerings (Baker et al., 2001; Bray, 1999; Stevenson and Baker, 1992).

While shadow education continues to thrive, learning centres are emerging as a formidable presence in the private education market (Aurini and Davies, 2004a).

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