"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, October 31, 2005

Primary Corruption in NCLB's Supplemental Services

Today's Chicago Tribune editorial:
Chicago Tribune Editorial
October 31, 2005

In response to the federal No Child Left Behind law, what was once a
modest after-school tutoring industry swelled virtually overnight
into a mammoth with more than $200 million in annual revenues.

A huge industry accountable to ... whom? Under the law,
schoolteachers and administrators are being held to account for the
performance of their students. But the tutors?

For the last three years, state education agencies have been
designated as the watchdogs over tutoring companies. Yet states
have been about as aggressive in that role as a brood of Chihuahuas.
Most states lack the staff, the money, the gumption and the
know-how to oversee the tutors properly.

That has been the case in Illinois. In recent months, however, the
Illinois State Board of Education has flickered to life, announcing
new rules that would scrutinize more carefully the 75 tutoring
companies approved to operate in the state. Last summer, the
board toughened and broadened its oversight of the financial
and academic strength of tutoring companies. State officials
recently banned a well-known national tutoring firm from
operating in five Chicago schools because of alleged ethics
violations. The state board's actions can be appealed by
the firm.

The firm, Newton Learning, allegedly hired school employees
who steered business Newton's way, either by altering parent
selections of which tutoring company to use, by instructing
parents directly to choose Newton or by sending home application
forms with Newton already selected. State ethics rules allow
public school teachers to be hired to provide after-school
instruction, but they are restricted from recruiting so as not to
give any one firm an inside advantage or special
access to children at a particular school.

Acting on tips gleaned from a new complaint procedure, state
investigators say they gathered information showing that
Newton paid school "site directors," who also happened to be
Chicago Public School employees, $500 to start up tutoring
programs, along with $3 for each pupil signed up. Parents of
poorly performing students in failing schools are able to choose
among roughly a dozen competing tutoring firms to provide
services to their children.

The fact that board officials are raising these questions reveals that
they're taking their watchdog role to a new level of seriousness.

"Generally, the responses we've received from other providers is
they're glad we're taking action," said Jonathan Furr, general
counsel to the state board.

Good for the board. So far, its new spotlight has been trained
primarily on financial and ethical issues. Those are fine, but focus
also is needed on whether these tutors are any good. Some of
them are brand new to the field and untested.

Furr said that analysis won't occur until the state has had time to
analyze results from tests taken at the end of this school year.

That information can't come soon enough. Illinois and the nation
need to know that the money poured into tutoring is getting results.
While the news from Chicago shows that the corporate welfare corruption of NCLB's $2 billion a per year Supplemental Services program has hit the mainstream press, Florida's Dept. of Education has made kowtowing to corporate interests the official policy by barring most non-corporate entities from providing tutoring services in the most needy schools in the state, even when E-School News Online reports that corporate tutoring costs up to 4 times as much as other not-for-profit services:
Decisions in Florida by the U.S. Department of Education, if implemented nationwide, would bar groups affiliated with school systems rated "in need of improvement" from participating in the tutoring program mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Entities likely to be barred from the program--worth an estimated $2 billion a year in federal funding--include teacher unions, child-care centers, after-school programs, voc-ed or computer centers, and parents' groups.

The move represents a potential boon for private, third-party providers in the region. It also holds national implications for districts that are considering offering such tutoring--or supplemental education services (SES)--themselves, because (a) it reaffirms ED's general position that no district in need of improvement is allowed to serve as its own SES provider; and (b) it further clarifies that the prohibition also applies to groups and programs affiliated with such school systems.

Jim Horn

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