Kumon or Montessori? It may depend on your politics

Whether parents prefer a conformance-oriented or independence-oriented supplemental education program for their children depends on political ideology, according to a study of more than 8,500 American parents by a research team from Rice University and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Conservative parents have a higher need for structure, which drives their preference for conformance-oriented programs,” said study co-author Vikas Mittal, a professor of marketing at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business. “Many parents are surprised to learn that their political identity can affect the educational choices they make for their children.”

Supplemental education programs include private tutoring, test preparation support and educational books and materials as well as online educational support services. The global market for private tutoring services is forecasted to reach $260.7 billion by 2024, and the U.S. market for tutoring is reported to be more than $8.9 billion a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 100,000 businesses in the private education services industry. Supplemental education program brands are among the top 500 franchises in Entrepreneur magazine’s 2020 rankings, and they include popular providers such as Kumon (ranked No. 12), Mathnasium (No. 29) and Huntington Learning Center (No. 39).

For over five decades, education psychologists have utilized two pedagogical orientations — conformance orientation and independence orientation. A conformance orientation is more standardized and guided, emphasizing lecture-based content delivery, knowledge and memorization, frequent use of homework assignments, standardized examinations with relative evaluation and classroom attendance discipline and rules. In contrast, an independence orientation features discussion-based seminars and student-led presentations, an emphasis on ideas rather than facts, use of multimodal interaction instead of books, and highly variable and unstructured class routines. The two approaches do not differ in terms of topics covered in the curriculum or the specific qualities to be imparted to students.

The research team asked parents about their preferences for different programs framed as conformance- or independence-oriented. In five studies of more than 8,500 parents, conservative parents preferred education programs that were framed as conformance-oriented, while liberal parents preferred independence-oriented education programs. This differential preference emerged for different measures of parents’ political identity: their party affiliation, self-reported political leaning and whether they watch Fox or CNN/MSNBC for news.

“By understanding the underlying motivations behind parents’ preferences, educational programs’ appeal to parents can be substantially enhanced,” Mittal said. “Supplemental tutoring will be a major expenditure and investment for parents grappling with their child’s academic performance in the post-pandemic era. Informal conversations show parents gearing up to supplement school-based education with tutoring. Despite this, very little research exists about the factors that affect parents’ preference for and utilization of supplemental education.”

Mittal cautioned that these results do not speak to ultimate student performance. “This study only speaks to parents’ preferences but does not study ultimate student achievement,” he said.

The paper, “Political Identity and Preference for Supplemental Educational Programs,” which is forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research, was co-authored by professor Jihye Jung of UTSA. It can be downloaded at https://doi.org/10.1177/00222437211004252.

To schedule an interview with Mittal or to request a copy of the study, contact Jeff Falk, director of national media relations at Rice, at [email protected] or 713-348-6775.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.