The Tutor Wars, Rosa Parks Remembered, and Eradicating Loutish Behavior

By Rich Shea — October 27, 2005 4 min read
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Among the cottage industries that have sprung up in NCLB’s wake is on-site tutoring, which, according to the law, must be made available free of charge to students in low-income schools failing to make adequate yearly progress. You can imagine companies tripping over themselves—and the money districts pay for their services. But there is no precise way to determine whether tutoring services are working, or even operating ethically. As the number of kids needing tutors exceeds 300,000, some of the questions being asked include: Should tutors have access to school buildings? Should they be allowed to use school textbooks, or back out of a deal if not enough kids sign up?

Chicago may be the best example of potential tutor-related problems. The Illinois Board of Education recently banned a company for paying school employees to steer students toward its tutoring services. Newton Learning—one of 45 firms vying for business in Chicago Public Schools—allegedly had district workers alter parent selections on sign-up forms and send forms home with Newton already selected. State officials also claim that, on its application to CPS, Newton said the student-to-tutor ratio would be 10-to-1 in after-school sessions, though the company actually planned to put one tutor and an aide in classes of 20. The district’s inspector general is looking into the allegations, and a Newton representative says her company will “investigate this matter very thoroughly.”

While NCLB’s legacy has yet to be determined, it’s tough to question the one left behind by Rosa Parks, who died October 24 at age 92. The African American sparked the civil rights movement in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. But she also helped establish the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation, which has awarded more than $1.5 million to 750-plus students in Michigan. Even outside Parks’ home state, her name—inscribed on schools across the country—is synonymous with Black History Month. “Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr.—kids know them better than they know George Washington,” says textbook author Joy Hakim. They may not know, however, that Parks was more than just tired that day on the bus. Having done volunteer work for the NAACP, the then-42-year-old “was someone who studied nonviolent protests,” says Jeff Passe, president of the National Council for the Social Studies. “She wasn’t just an ordinary person who started a revolution—yet she’s portrayed that way.”

They may not be revolutionaries, but today’s high school and college students are, in a way, harking back to more community-friendly times by bonding through clubs and organizations. At George Washington University, for example, the number of clubs has doubled in the past four years, to roughly 400. While Gen Xers and slackers considered clubs too “establishment,” the “millennial” generation was weaned on play dates. “They don’t know what to do with downtime,” says Judith Kidd, a Harvard University dean. “They come to campus with day planners.” As if to prove Kidd’s point, a high schooler in Maryland says: “I really, really, really don’t like free time. I love to have every minute where I know what I’m going to do.” Some worry this club thing is just a résumé-builder, but others believe it has a bigger payoff. Says one college student, “I actually find [it] a way of connecting with my peers.”

Connecting is not what some British teachers and students appear to be doing. So their government now grants teachers the right to use “reasonable force” to discipline rowdy kids. The new ruling is the result of a task force investigation that has concluded that, according to England’s education secretary, Ruth Kelly, “there is still too much low-level disruption to lessons—backchat, rudeness, calling out in class.” Does this mean educators get to dust off their switches? Evidently not. A number of less-physical measures are suggested, including a national charter of rights for students and teachers, and making parents more responsible. One administrator says, “It is reprehensible that a minority of parents condone negative and loutish behavior which causes distress in the school environment.”

Six thousand miles away, in California, a study reveals that parent involvement and good behavior do not affect how well elementary students perform on standardized tests. Conducted by the independent EdSource, the study focused on 257 low-income, mostly minority schools, finding that the successful ones do not concentrate on behavior or depend on parental support. Instead, they make sure there are enough textbooks to go around, link lessons to state standards, prioritize student achievement, and closely analyze student performance. Trish Williams, EdSource’s executive director, was careful not to downgrade the importance of parental involvement, but she also stressed the broader implications of the findings. “Lots of people believe that demographics determines achievement,” she says. “This [study] shows that is not true.”

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