Teachers’ Unions Seize Opportunity To Provide Supplemental Services

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Neither of the nation’s two major teachers’ unions has trouble finding fault with the many provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act nor with how much the Bush administration is spending to help states and districts implement the law.

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The report on supplemental services is available online from the U.S. Department of Education. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

But complaints over the structure of the federal legislation haven’t stopped two affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers from actually providing one of the critical services available to students who have fallen behind in school.

The Rochester Teachers Association in New York and the Toledo Federation of Teachers in Ohio have both become approved supplemental-service providers in their states and are working with their districts to tutor children from low-income families and those who are struggling academically. Both are known for their innovative leadership.

"While most unions were busy trying to figure out how to fight NCLB, we figured out how to do intellectual jujitsu here," said Adam Urbanski, the president of the Rochester union.

That local already had a nonprofit organization, supported by members’ dues and the United Way, called the Leadership for Reform Institute. It has been running homework-assistance programs for 23 years.

So becoming a supplemental-service provider was a natural step to take, Mr. Urbanski said.

"We have a long-standing track record of helping kids with schoolwork," he added. "Our biggest problem is accommodating the demand."

The tutoring sessions, which are each limited to four or five students, are held after school hours, in the schools the youngsters attend. That way, Mr. Urbanski said, the tutors, who are district teachers, often know the children and can confer with their regular classroom teachers.

‘Top Priority’

Sixty tutors worked this past school year with 250 students at one elementary and two middle schools in the 36,500-student district. Other providers work elsewhere in the district.

The tutors tailor their help to the needs of the school, said Debbi Jackett, the second vice president of the Rochester union. For example, one of the two middle schools wanted to focus on students who were supposed to be 9th graders, but were still in 8th grade this year because they failed one test.

At the elementary school, the tutors worked with children in kindergarten through 2nd grade.

"It’s going to depend on that particular building at what their needs are," Ms. Jackett said.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, eligible students—usually meaning those who qualify for subsidized lunches or are low-performing academically— are offered supplemental educational services if their schools haven’t made "adequate yearly progress" after three years.

Tutoring can be offered after two years if the district can’t offer parents the choice of another school in which to enroll their child.

In Toledo, where about 400 students have been served this year at 11 sites, the tutoring has been provided by the Reading Academy, a joint project of the teachers’ union and the district.

"The top priority of both union and management is student achievement," said Francine Lawrence, the president of the affiliate. "And our people have talents that are unique to the needs of our district."

Craig Cotner, the chief academic officer for the 35,600-student Toledo district, agreed that the partnership has proved beneficial.

"We have teachers who are highly trained in how to be successful reading teachers," he said.

Concerns Remain

Both the Rochester and Toledo districts were showcased in a report and guidebook about supplemental services released last month by the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary of Education Rod Paige also recently visited Toledo to highlight the way the district has set up its supplemental-services program.

The report, "Innovations in Education: Creating Strong Supplemental Educational Services Programs," doesn’t specifically mention either union. But it does urge districts to form relationships with local tutoring providers, even though the state officially approves providers.

"Clear district-provider communication, starting at first connection, can lead to specific agreements and contracts that smooth the way for and support effective services to students," the report says. "From this solid base, even stronger programs and partnerships can be built over time."

The Toledo union’s good working relationship with the district, however, didn’t stop Ms. Lawrence from speaking out about what she sees as continuing problems with the federal education law and the Bush administration’s priorities.

When Mr. Paige visited Marshall Elementary School to highlight the Reading Academy’s work, Ms. Lawrence issued a statement about spending public dollars on the public, but largely independent, charter schools.

"If President Bush really wanted to support effective programs like the Reading Academy, he would fully fund NCLB so that key programs wouldn’t have to be cut and programs that work could be expanded to benefit more students," she said in a press release at the time.

Union and school officials in both Toledo and Rochester say that even though they don’t have scientific proof that the additional tutoring services are improving performance, they still believe the extra instruction is benefiting students. And apparently, so do parents.

"Our most positive feedback," Mr. Cotner said, "is that requests for the service are increasing."

Vol. 23, Issue 40, Page 14

Published in Print: June 16, 2004, as Teachers’ Unions Seize Opportunity To Provide Supplemental Services
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