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Could 'Cram Schools' Be on Their Way to America?

If the importance of test scores continues to increase, Japanese-style cram schools could take off.

Ready to cram for that exam? As education becomes more test-centered and competitive around the world, the pressure to log sky-high scores is on the rise. According to The Economist, Japan's reknowned juku—after-school education programs also known as "cram schools"—are more popular than ever. The juku system is even exporting its model to other Asian countries, including China and Korea. Given the U.S.'s embrace of testing as the ultimate measure of achievement for students, teachers, and schools, could formal cram schools become more popular in the U.S.?

There are more than 50,000 cram schools in Japan, and conditions are ripe for a similar explosion here in the States. Like parents of Japanese high schoolers—who pay about $3,300 a year for cram school tuition—affluent American families have long forked over their cash in order to give their kids an academic edge, especially for college admissions. They hire tutors or sign their kids up for the U.S. version of "cram schools"—pricey SAT and ACT prep classes from education companies like Kaplan and Kumon.

The pressures of testing and the increasingly competitive nature of schooling could make cram school tuition more appealing to middle-class American parents. K-12 teachers don't have the time to spend countless hours reviewing concepts, so they pass the job on to moms and dads, asking them to work with their children at home to ensure they master material in advance of standardized tests.

But parents may not have the time or academic capacity to teach their children. And because admission to magnet schools and gifted programs—which can set students up for long-term academic success—is usually based on test scores, parents from all economic backgrounds have an additional incentive to outsource cramming for high-stakes exams to tutors and education companies.

Most Americans still view cram schools as "reinforcing a tradition of rote learning over ingenuity," but in Japan, the method is paying off: "School and university test scores rise in direct proportion" to the amount a family spends on supplementary education, researches have found. Everyone wants the top results, so if test scores continue to rule our schools, cramming could become the norm in America.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user albertogp123

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