From the N.Y. Times by Kate Zernike:
ON command, Eze Schupfer reads aloud the numbers on a worksheet in front of her: “42, 43, 12, 13.” Then she begins to trace them.

“Is that how we write a 12?” her instructor, Maria Rivas, asks. “Erase it.”

“This is a sloppy 12, Eze,” she says. “Go ahead: a one and a two. Smaller. Much better.”

Eze is 3. She is neither problem child nor prodigy. And her mother, Gina Goldman, who watches through a glass window from the waiting room, says drilling numbers and letters into the head of a 3-year-old defies all the warmth and coziness of her parenting philosophy — as well as the ethos of Eze’s progressive preschool. But she began bringing Eze and her older brother to these tutoring sessions nearly a year ago on the advice of a friend, and has since become the kind of believer who is fueling a rapid expansion of Junior Kumon preschool enrichment programs like this one, a block from the toddler-swollen playgrounds of Battery Park City.

As competition in education has spread down, the tutoring industry has followed.

Research suggests that there is little benefit from this kind of tutoring; that young children learn just as much about math, if not more, fitting mixing bowls together on the kitchen floor. But programs like Kumon are gaining from, and generating, parents’ anxiety about what kind of preparation their children will need — and whether parents themselves have what it takes to provide it. For those whose idea of enrichment is introducing “Buenas Noches, Luna” into their toddlers’ bedtime reading ritual, this is yet another reminder that no matter how much you do, there is always some other program that — who knows? — just might mean a difference.

“The best you can say is that they’re useless,” said Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who compared the escalation of supplemental education with Irish elk competing to see which had the biggest antlers. “The result is that they go around tottering, unable to walk, under the enormous weight of these antlers they’ve developed,” she said. “I think it’s true of American parents from high school all the way down to preschool.”

Other tutoring companies like Sylvan have also moved into the prekindergarten market. But Kumon, a Japanese import that calls itself the world’s largest math and reading enrichment program, has pushed most aggressively, admitting students as young as 2. Those young students have become an increasingly important part of its business: Kumon grew by about 12 percent last year, to 250,000 students nationwide; Junior Kumon grew by more than 30 percent. In New York, where the company is colonizing storefronts like so many Starbucks, enrollment in Junior Kumon has tripled since it began opening centers in 2007.

“Age 3 is the sweet spot,” said Joseph Nativo, chief financial officer for Kumon North America. “But if they’re out of a diaper and can sit still with a Kumon instructor for 15 minutes, we will take them.”

While worksheets are considered soul sapping in the schools where many Junior Kumon parents aspire to send their children — the kind of affluent places holding screenings of “Race to Nowhere” — at Kumon, they are the essence of the experience. Repetition, derided elsewhere as drill and kill, is considered the key to developing concentration.

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