Student Achievement

Private Tutoring Firm Ousted From 7 Chicago Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — March 15, 2005 2 min read
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Platform Learning, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of the tutoring services required by the No Child Left Behind Act, is being ejected from seven Chicago schools.

Elizabeth F. Swanson, who oversees after-school programs for the city’s public schools, said the district intends to transfer the 1,100 affected children into other providers’ programs in a few weeks. Platform Learning continues to serve about 13,000 children in 67 other Chicago schools, under a $15 million contract with the school district.

Under the law, students from low-income families in schools that fail to meet their performance targets for three years in a row can receive free tutoring from a public or private provider selected from a state-approved list.

A number of the 28 private providers offering tutoring, or “supplemental educational services,” in Chicago had problems getting started last fall, Ms. Swanson said. But complaints from about a dozen elementary schools using Platform Learning—largely about insufficient materials, or tutors not showing up—persisted months into the school year.

Two Sides

Eugene Wade, the chief executive officer of the New York City-based Platform Learning, said last week that although there were some startup difficulties when the company began offering tutoring in Chicago last fall, and there are still occasional problems, the program has gone well overall. He said he has had dozens of letters from parents and principals attesting to that good record.

But Ms. Swanson said problems lasted at seven of the sites even after company officials agreed to address them. District officials contacted those principals, and they chose to stop Platform Learning’s program at their schools, she said.

At one school, Spry Community School, children watched the movie “Garfield” in the auditorium one afternoon because so many tutors did not show up, Ms. Swanson said.

Mr. Wade offered that example to illustrate his contention that the company’s mistakes are being exaggerated and not fully explained.

Several tutors for Spry called in sick the day before that incident, he said. The company called Spry administrators and offered to send trained Platform Learning tutors from other sites, but administrators decided to cancel that day’s program, Mr. Wade said.

Spry Community School administrators called the company the next day at 1 p.m. and said they were going to run the program, but by then, there was too little time to bring in additional tutors, Mr. Wade said.

The U.S. Department of Education is unhappy with Chicago’s move, and plans to talk with Illinois officials, said Michael J. Petrilli, the acting assistant deputy secretary in the department’s office of innovation and improvement. If the district believes a provider is not doing its job, it should convey that to state officials, and let them take action, he said.

“Quality is job one, and we agree that providers should be held accountable,” Mr. Petrilli said. “However, it is the state’s role, not the district’s, to ensure that providers implement the program design promised in their provider application.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Private Tutoring Firm Ousted From 7 Chicago Schools

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