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Wed Apr 3, 2013, 02:27 PM

.Centers See New Faces Seeking Test Prep.

It’s no surprise to the average New York parent that so-called cram schools, once the cultural domain of Chinese-, Korean- and Russian-American students, have gained traction with non-Asian parents hoping to grab slots in competitive gifted programs and coveted middle and high schools by improving their children’s test scores.

But whereas five years ago owners of cram schools were surprised to encounter non-Asian students in their waiting rooms, now they are muscling one another for their business, handing out book bags with the names of their schools scrawled across the front, attending summer camp fairs in synagogues and school cafeterias, hiring receptionists who speak English, and aggressively pitting themselves against the Japanese cram school behemoth, Kumon, which dominates the local market. . . .

But in the fall, Mr. Verdino sent an e-mail to prospective parents in which he claimed that Eye-Level’s Korean method, which pairs one teacher up with only a few students, is more effective than Kumon’s Japanese learning strategy, where the student-to-teacher ratio is much higher. Further, he wrote, Kumon requires too much rote memorization, and not enough critical thinking. . .

In one room, a group of mostly Asian teenagers in hoodies and Ugg boots pored over thick test-prep books as they jotted down their answers to practice SAT math questions. Meanwhile, in a carpeted room in the front, flanked by large windows, Natalie Schonfeld and Camila Grunberg, two 9-year-olds who are white, nibbled on green-tea cupcakes during a break in their hour-and-a-half writing class. Water bottles, pencil cases and highlighters cluttered their desks. Not one of the five students in their class was Chinese.

Camila considers the morning class like camp. “I love it,” she said.

But Atticus Khalif, a third grader at nearby Public School 130, was less enthusiastic. He took his shoes off, fiddled with his pencil and occasionally made funny noises. When asked how long he had been coming, he barked, “This is my terrible 10th time.”


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