With fewer than a fifth of eligible students taking advantage of federally financed tutoring and afterschool programs, policymakers here have begun exploring options for expanding the reach of those services.
At a hearing last week, some House members said they would consider placing new demands on states and districts, such as increasing their responsibility to notify parents of the tutoring available for their children, when Congress reauthorizes the No Child Left Behind Act. The law is scheduled for renewal next year.
“This committee has a responsibility to take a thorough and serious look into why [participation is below 20 percent of eligible students] and how we can change it,” Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said at the Sept. 21 hearing, the latest in a series the panel has held in preparation for reauthorizing the law.
The same day, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings held a town-hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio, where she announced a new partnership with the National Urban League to publicize the availability of tutoring.
“When schools fall short of standards year after year, we have a responsibility to give students lifelines to help them now,” Ms. Spellings said.
The question of how to improve access to and participation in what are known as supplementary educational services will be a major priority when Congress revisits the NCLB legislation, Rep. McKeon said last week at a separate discussion sponsored by the Business Roundtable, an influential Washington lobbying group made up of corporate chief executives.
Under the 4½-year-old law, schools that fail to meet their achievement targets for three consecutive years must offering tutoring and other extended-learning programs to all their students. Students may choose from a list of providers approved by the state department of education. Many school districts have won approval to be the providers of the services themselves.
Participation in the supplementary services has been growing, but is “very disappointing,” Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, said at last week’s hearing. Last month, the Government Accountability Office estimated that 19 percent of eligible students used the services in the 2004-05 school year, compared with 12 percent the previous school year.
Districts do a poor job communicating with parents about the opportunities for tutoring and other academic help, Monique Dollonne, the mother of a child who received tutoring under the program, told the House panel.
Letters informing parents of their rights regularly arrive after the school year has begun, and are too confusing for them to understand how and when they can respond to them, said Ms. Dollonne, who lives in Ventura, Calif.
“There needs to be a lot more effort to promote the availability of it,” Marc H. Morial, the president of the National Urban League, said in an interview. The New York City-based group serving African-Americans in 100 cities is a provider of after-school programs and sponsored the Columbus meeting that Secretary Spellings spoke to last week.
Congress could require districts to go to greater lengths in informing parents about the availability of the tutoring and after-school services, said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.
Rep. McCarthy cited the 430,000-student Chicago district, which requires schools to have an open house where parents can meet providers, runs a hotline to answer parents’ questions about the program, and produced a handbook informing parents how to use the services.
In Chicago, 75,000 students registered for supplemental services, but the district provided services to only 45,000 of them in the 2005-06 school year because it lacked money to serve them all, Erica L. Harris, the manager of academic after-school programs for the district, told the House committee.
Rollover of Aid?
Others suggested that districts be required to spend 20 percent of their Title I allocations on supplemental services. The current law allows districts to allocate up to that percentage of their Title I grants, which support educational services for disadvantaged students, but few have enough participation to warrant that amount of spending.
The GAO estimates that districts required to offer the extended-learning opportunities spent an average of 5 percent of their Title I money on supplementary services in 2004-05.
The law should require districts to “roll over” their unspent supplemental services money for future years, Ms. Dollonne told the committee.
But some members of the House panel said the bigger issue is that the No Child Left Behind law and federal special education programs aren’t adequately funded.
“Supplemental services are a noble goal,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. “But if we don’t do the basics first and put a fancy layer on top of it, I don’t see how our children come out ahead.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 2006 edition of Education Week as House Panel Studies Ways to Boost Tutoring Under NCLB