House lawmakers last week invited ideas on how to improve the quality of and access to tutoring made available under the No Child Left Behind Act, with a leading Republican raising concerns that too few students are getting the supplemental services.
“It seems to me that, overall, the participation rates are low,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, at an April 18 hearing by the panel.
An official from the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, said at the hearing 19 percent of students who were eligible for supplemental educational services under the law during the 2004-05 academic year actually participated. That was an increase from 12 percent the year before, according to a GAO analysis.
For his part, the panel’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, signaled general concern with how the supplemental-services provisions have been carried out.
“Implementation of those provisions has created many challenges at the federal, state, and local level,” he said. “School districts need much more assistance from the Department of Education to fully and successfully implement these services.”
The House and Senate education committees are each holding hearings as Congress prepares to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act.
Under the 5-year-old federal law, if a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for at least two straight years, its students may transfer to another public school with the district’s federal aid covering the transportation costs. If the school does not make AYP for a third year, the students are entitled to get supplemental services outside the school day, including from private providers.
Cornelia M. Ashby, the GAO’s director of education, workforce, and income-security issues, testified that the trend nationwide is toward greater participation rates for students in supplemental services, but said they are “still low.”
A GAO report issued last summer found that timely and effective notification of parents remains a problem, as well as attracting providers to serve certain areas and students, such as rural districts.
“Part of the problem in parent notification is parents understanding what SES is,” Ms. Ashby said.
‘Go to the People’
Dianne M. Piché, the executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington-based watchdog group, said she sees wide variation in participation. In many districts, fewer than 10 percent of eligible students received the services in 2004-05, though others had far higher participation, according to a survey of more than 120 districts the commission conducted.
Ms. Piché said more monitoring is needed at all levels of government.
Anne E. Chafin, an assistant superintendent in Maryland’s department of education, said her state has worked intensively with districts to ensure robust participation, and as a result, about 70 percent of eligible students are getting supplemental services.
“You must go to the people,” she said. “You have to work with the schools.”
Her agency has dedicated two staff members to supplemental services, with an emphasis on monitoring and oversight. The state still faces challenges, she said, including the cost of ensuring the provision’s success.
The hearing also examined concerns about the quality of supplemental services. The GAO finds that many states struggle with how to evaluate whether the providers are improving student achievement.
District officials testifying argued that all providers should have to show that their instructors meet NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” requirements.
“It’s difficult to know the quality,” said Ruth D. Murray, the director of the federal grants office for the Newport News, Va., schools.
Her 33,000-student district is one of four in Virginia taking part in a pilot under which the federal government has allowed it to reverse the order of when students are eligible for the NCLB transfer and supplemental-services options. Ms. Murray argued that offering tutoring first is a wiser approach.
“If parents are allowed to pull children out, the capacity of the schools goes down,” she said.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D Calif., was sympathetic, calling the transfer provision “punitive.”
“I prefer that school choice be later,” she said.
Ms. Piché from the Citizens’ Commission said she backs offering tutoring sooner, but said that should not come at the expense of the transfer option.
“We think parents should have the right to choose either of those options,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week as House Panel Examines NCLB Supplemental Services