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Published in Print: January 24, 2007, as Companies Want Changes in NCLB Tutoring Policies

Companies Want Changes in NCLB Tutoring Policies

Disappointing numbers fuel call for steps aimed at boosting participation.

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Students could get better access to federally funded tutoring programs if lawmakers streamlined the sign-up process, gave states and districts money to monitor and evaluate those services, and took steps to make sure districts actually spent money for tutoring on tutoring.

Those are some of the preliminary policy arguments that commercial tutoring providers are putting forward as Congress gears up to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, including its provision requiring underperforming public schools to offer students supplemental educational services, typically tutoring.

That SES provision has traveled a bumpy road since the inception of the sweeping, 5-year-old federal law, which holds schools accountable for their students’ academic performance. Only 23 percent of eligible students, or 585,000 out of 2.5 million, received NCLB tutoring in 2005-06, according to a recent analysis by Eduventures, a Boston-based firm that tracks the education market. And many tutoring companies have struggled to provide services in an environment that they contend is hostile to providers and laden with bureaucratic red tape. ("Market for NCLB Tutoring Falls Short of Expectations," Dec. 20, 2006.)

The Washington-based Education Industry Association, a 500-member organization that represents tutoring and other education services companies, has a 28-member committee considering proposals for amending SES policy. Last week, the association was still fine-tuning its recommendations, which it plans to present to the U.S. Department of Education and federal legislators in the near future.

Revisiting NCLB Tutoring

The Education Industry Association is making preliminary policy recommendations concerning the supplemental educational services provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

• Allocate funds for administration costs. Let school districts and states use some of their SES funds to administer, monitor, and evaluate programs.

• Seek full expenditure of SES funds. Take steps to increase student participation before allowing districts to spend unused SES funds on other Title I expenses.

• Streamline the enrollment process. Put forms online, reduce paperwork for parents, better inform them about programs, and lengthen the enrollment window.

• Give providers better access to schools. Require schools to make school facilities available to providers under the same terms as other community groups.

• Gather more federal data from states and districts. Require collection of data in areas including student eligibility, enrollment, and program completion.

• Conduct national and state evaluations. Commission annual studies to measure the effect of tutoring programs on student learning, as well as parent satisfaction.

• Give students the tutoring option sooner. Require schools to offer students tutoring after two, rather than three, years of failing to make adequate yearly progress.

• Clarify authority to approve providers. Do not allow districts to go beyond state criteria by adding their own requirements.

“When SES works, it is a thing of beauty,” said Joseph F. Lockavitch, the president of Failure Free Reading, a tutoring company based in Concord, N.C., and a member of the EIA working group. “When it doesn’t, it’s ugly.”

The reasons cited for low student participation vary depending on whom you ask. Some tutoring companies say they have been frustrated by districts that have failed to sufficiently notify parents of tutoring services, have made parents complete multiple forms to enroll, and have prevented providers from tutoring students in school buildings, for example.

For their part, districts contend they have faced problems communicating with tutoring providers, according to report last August by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Some companies, for instance, did not contact teachers in order to align the firms’ after-hours programs with the schools’ own curricula, according to the GAO. And 23 percent of districts surveyed for the report said that some, most, or all of their SES providers did not submit attendance data regularly.

How receptive Congress may be to EIA’s draft recommendations is unclear, now that the Democrats are the majority.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, does not list supplemental educational services among his priorities for renewing the NCLB law. Instead, his proposals focus on improving what happens in schools during the school day, such as supporting high-quality teaching and modernizing middle and high schools.

Access an Issue

Simplifying the student-enrollment process by requiring only one online form is among the top recommendations of the EIA and some tutoring providers.

Many parents must fill out multiple forms, spaced a few days or weeks apart, to enroll their children, companies say. They blame such paperwork for causing some companies, such as New York City-based Platform Learning, to walk away from districts because not enough parents signed up. The company tutors about 10,000 students nationwide.

“The sign-up process is so arduous. That’s where the bottleneck is,” said Eugene V. Wade, the president of Platform Learning. “A parent said to me, ‘I have an easier time going down to the [department of motor vehicles] and getting a driver’s license than getting my child tutored under SES.’ And he’s right.”

The sign-up process can also be more complicated for parents who want to use online tutoring providers, companies say. Most districts require original signatures on forms parents sign to certify their children’s attendance, for instance, and many district contracts are not set up to recognize online tutoring services, said Gregg Levin, the executive director of Catapult Online, a subsidiary of Baltimore-based Educate Inc. Catapult has 1,000 teachers who provide NCLB tutoring to 12,000 to 14,000 students via the Web. The company provides each student with an Internet-connected computer.

“Signatures—that’s a major, major challenge for us,” Mr. Levin said. “Sometimes, we can give the virtual equivalent of a signature. It’s not the spirit of the requirements we take issue with. It’s the administrative requirements.”

Notifying parents earlier of after-school-tutoring options is another top recommendation. Some districts, for instance, don’t inform parents until the school year is well under way, delaying academic help, private providers say.

“We’re still getting phone calls from parents now,” Matthew Lupsha, a vice president of Kumon North America, a Teaneck, N.J.-based tutoring company, said in an interview this month. “You’re losing almost half the school year and valuable instructional time.”

Money for Administration

Oversight is another challenge, the EIA says. So its preliminary recommendations call for earmarking a small percentage of federal Title I funds for administering, monitoring, and evaluating NCLB tutoring.

“This is the type of program that’s not given the attention or resources it needs to be done properly,” said Mr. Lupsha, who chairs the EIA committee. “If [states and districts] have more resources, they can devote adequate staff and time.”

Lawmakers should also require districts to spend funds targeted for SES on such services, says the EIA. If districts do not, they should have to document their good-faith efforts to do so. Then the money should be rolled over into the next year’s SES funding, the association recommends. At present, districts can spend unused tutoring funds on other needs.

The framers of the SES provision “underestimated the reluctance” of some districts to spend those funds on after-school tutoring, said Nina S. Rees, the senior vice president for strategic initiatives at Knowledge Learning Corporation School Partnerships, in New York City, which provides NCLB tutoring to about 35,000 students. Formerly, she was the assistant deputy secretary in the federal Department of Education’s office of innovation and improvement, which oversees implementation of the SES provision.

Mr. Lockavitch, of Failure Free Reading, whose company provides NCLB tutoring based on its remedial-literacy program, called the current situation counterproductive. “On one hand, you’re telling [districts] they’re under the gun to tell parents,” he said, referring to the availability of tutoring. “But on the other hand, if the money is not spent, [the districts] can keep the money.”

Vol. 26, Issue 20, Page 10

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