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Fewer Chicago Pupils Receive NCLB Tutoring

By Catherine Gewertz — October 25, 2005 3 min read
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Six weeks after securing a federal waiver designed to maximize the number of children who can receive free tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Chicago school district has announced that 23,000 fewer students than last year will be able to get that help.

The district and private tutoring vendors are able to provide the extra academic assistance to 56,800 students this year, compared with 80,000 last year. Had the district not set up an additional tutoring program with $5 million in reallocated discretionary state money, it would have been able to offer the service to only 43,500 students.

Elizabeth F. Swanson, who oversees Chicago’s after-school programs, said the pool of tutoring students is smaller this year because far more families signed up for private providers’ programs than for the district’s less costly program. The larger proportion of families in costlier programs meant that the district’s $50 million tutoring allotment covered fewer children.

She attributed the sign-up pattern to the district’s belated entry into the tutoring market: only five days before registration began, and after months of marketing by the 53 private vendors who offer services there.

Chicago officials were quick to point out, however, that far fewer children would receive tutoring if the U.S. Department of Education had not granted a waiver on Sept. 1 allowing the district to serve as a federally financed provider. Normally, No Child Left Behind regulations bar districts deemed “in need of improvement” from doing so. Chicago had to suspend its own program last winter for that reason. (“Ed. Dept. Allows Chicago to Provide NCLB Tutoring,” Sept. 7, 2005)

Federal officials see this year’s enrollment numbers in Chicago as an increase in the federally funded tutoring program there, noting that the city had counted thousands of participants last year that it wasn’t entitled to count.

Federal law requires districts to set aside 20 percent of their Title I allocation for low-income children to pay for the tutoring and school transfers that the No Child Left Behind law requires be offered to students at underperforming schools. In Chicago’s case, that pot totaled about $56 million, of which it chose to reserve $50 million for tutoring, formally known as supplemental educational services.

About 73,000 students signed up for tutoring. Most chose private vendors, whose services cost an average of $1,600 per student, compared with Chicago’s program, which costs $380 per child on average, Ms. Swanson said. The vendors’ services cost $1,200 on average last year, but federal officials forced the city to remove what they said was an improper cap on that cost, allowing it to rise this year.

The district used test scores to choose the 43,500 students most in need of the service, Ms. Swanson said. Private providers will serve about 32,400, and Chicago’s program will serve about 11,000. Another 13,300 eligible children on the waiting list were given program slots when the district decided to use $5 million from a state block grant.

Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a Potomac, Md.-based trade group for private education companies, said he was dismayed that a waiver intended to make tutoring more widely available did not seem to be having that effect.

“The community of Chicago was expecting as a result of this new flexibility that more kids would be receiving tutoring this school year than last,” he said. “That was the clear expectation.”

Holly A. Kuzmich, the Education Department’s deputy assistant secretary for policy, said this year’s numbers can’t be viewed as a decrease from last year’s, because half of last year’s 80,000 enrollment—the 40,000 students Chicago was tutoring in violation of federal regulations—never should have been counted as tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Seen that way, she said, it’s a net increase, because 40,000 children received tutoring last year under the federal law, compared with 43,500 this year. And even more will get the service because the city chose to use state money to provide it, she said.

“We give them kudos for putting in extra money and serving those kids,” Ms. Kuzmich said. “That’s exactly what we want to see.”

It’s “never the fault” of the private providers that their services cost more and could mean that districts’ allotments serve fewer students, she said. The intent of the nearly 4-year-old school accountability and improvement law, she said, is to give parents options, regardless of cost.

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2005 edition of Education Week as Fewer Chicago Pupils Receive NCLB Tutoring

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