To the Editor:
In her Commentary (“Outsourcing the Tutor’s Job,” Dec. 8, 2004), Susan Eaton not only misses the point about the federal No Child Left Behind Act’ssupplemental educational services program, she provides an unbalanced perspective regarding the implementation and results of these programs.
The No Child Left Behind law’s supplemental educational services programs are the product of a bipartisan compromise to provide immediate relief to low-income families whose children attend underperforming schools. Combined with many other provisions in the landmark education law, these programs represent a historic attempt to begin leveling the educational playing field for low-income students.
These are brand-new programs supported by increased federal funding. They take place outside the regular school day and are truly “supplemental” to classroom instruction and other district activities. Thus, in no sense does private-sector involvement in these programs represent “outsourcing” of previous district activities.
As much as these programs are about leveling the educational playing field for students in underperforming schools, they are also about eliminating the educational apartheid that exists in our country, through empowering and engaging parents. These programs offer disenfranchised parents the opportunity to make choices that affect the education of their children.
Low-income parents across the country are exercising their right to choose a free after-school tutoring program that best fits the needs of their children. Families make their choices based on a host of factors, such as the program curriculum, instructional hours, location, and student-to-teacher ratios. (Student-teacher ratios are typically much lower for private providers than for district providers, hence, the differing cost structures to which Ms. Eaton alludes.) In making these choices, parents are becoming educational consumers, more involved in their children’s education and more engaged in their school community. And, contrary to Ms. Eaton’s assertion, our firsthand experience suggests that the majority of students are enrolled in district-operated programs, not those of private providers.
On two points, however, we do agree with Ms. Eaton. First, there are thousands of talented teachers hard at work in schools “in need of improvement.” Our company hires many of them. Second, we strongly agree that careful monitoring and evaluation of all tutoring providers, including school districts, private-sector companies, and faith-based providers, is needed.
For more than 15 years, we have partnered with schools and districts to provide high-quality, research-based supplemental instruction that improves student achievement. We believe that the establishment of this “free-market experiment,” as Ms. Eaton calls it, will spur new thinking, innovation in after-school programming, and more creative public-private partnerships. Let’s not rush to judgment on a program that is just finding its sea legs.
Jeffrey H. Cohen
A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2005 edition of Education Week