Jeanine Pedersen, 60, doesn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for a private math tutor for her oldest daughter, 16, who is a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School. 

But this doesn’t mean finances aren’t tight in her family. 

“You make choices and it [paying for a math tutor] meant that we didn’t travel as much as we liked to and I don’t get new clothes. To be honest, the shoes I have on my feet right now are cast offs from my kids,” Pedersen said. 

Pedersen and her husband have been paying for a private math tutor for her oldest daughter for the last three years of her daughter’s high school career. They pay $65 to $80 an hour each week for a private tutor. 

But the expense is worth it. 

“She’ll be able to finish calculus senior year, which means she won’t have to take calculus in college and she’ll be done with math,” Pedersen said. 

Cost calculations for enrichment are a real issue for many middle income and lower income families in these villages.

More often than not, parents of low-income status cannot afford extra resources, like private tutors, for their children. Race often plays a hand in this. Racial minorities, on average, earn less than their white counterparts. 

Pedersen, who is white, believes economic status affects a family’s ability to pay for extras like math tutors but she doesn’t think race affects this.  

“There are plenty of parents of color in Oak Park who are in the same financial situation I am and they make the same choices,” Pedersen said. 

Julie Frey, the mathematics division head at the high school, agrees that a family’s financial status affects the resources, like math tutors, they can offer their children and that this is related with the success of their child in a particular subject. 

“There has been some research done on one-on-one math instruction and it definitely will increase success in learning math. So, if a kid is getting private tutoring, research says they will have more success than the kid they’re sitting next to that isn’t getting private tutors,” Frey said.  

However, unlike Pedersen, Frey doesn’t think race is a negligible factor. 

Frey, who has held her role for the past nine years, says the U.S. education system was designed for and built by white people and this legacy affects teaching today. 

But she says the high school is trying to lessen this gap. 

“Standards-based grading. The research on that shows the kids who benefit the most are kids of color,” Frey said. 

Standards-based grading evaluates students on units they have passed. A student will not receive a grade in a unit, like algebra, until they have mastered all of the quizzes or tests in that unit. 

“It tells kids that learning something isn’t about some innate ability…I tell kids you can’t fail, you can only quit,” Frey said. 

This type of instruction is a big shift, Frey said, but it’s the route most schools are taking.

Frey said conversations around race and equity are constant among teachers.

There are also resources the high school offers that don’t require parents to shell out extravagant sums of money so their child can get ahead in math.

“The tutoring center is open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and through the entire day and it’s staffed heavier in mathematical expertise than in anything else,” Frey said. 

She also refers parents to Khan Academy, which offers free online courses in a variety of subjects, and free online digital textbooks the school provides. 

The school also offers summer school courses in math. During the 2018 summer session, the school charged $185 per credit. The school has financial assistance for families who can’t afford summer school, Frey said.

But to significantly lessen the gap between the success of low-income students and students with more financial resources when it comes to math, there needs to be an intervention in the third grade, she said.

“If a kid gets behind in third grade and then continues to lose ground, by the time they hit me they’re four or five grades behind,” Frey said. “So, the truth is that we as a society have to recognize how important education is. We all have to agree that all kids can learn.”

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY). 

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