Federal

Religious Groups Jump at Chance to Offer NCLB Tutoring

By Michelle R. Davis — June 21, 2005 5 min read
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Before Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church began tutoring students under the No Child left Behind Act three years ago, Bible readings were a common part of its study sessions.

Though the Providence, Ky., church believes strongly in its religious mission, now that it is helping students in reading and math under the federal education law, its tutoring is purely secular.

Pleasant Hill is one of an increasing number of faith-based organizations to become providers of supplemental educational services under the law. Of endeavors funded by the Department of Education, supplemental services has attracted the largest number of religious groups, Nina S. Rees, the assistant deputy secretary for the department’s office of innovation and improvement, said in a June 2 speech in Baltimore.

Samara Yudof, a department spokeswoman, added that when it comes to tutoring, “historically, many faith-based and community organizations have provided these services at their own expense and are well suited to the program.”

Faith-Based Tutoring Providers

The Department of Education says it has had much success enlisting faith-based organizations such as these providers of supplemental educational services under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church

Providence, Ky.

More than a century old, this church has been a supplemental-services provider for three years and tutored about 35 students this past school year under the federal education law.

Gideon’s Gate Inc.

Indianapolis

A 3-year-old Christian-based community-development organization, Gideon’s Gate began providing supplemetnal educational services at its inception. It tutored more than 100 students under the federal law this past year.

Breese Foundation

Los Angeles

Formed in 1982 by the Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene, this nonprofit organization has provided supplemental services for two years. It tutors 150 students under the federal law.

Good Hope Economic Development Corp.

Milwaukee

This nonprofit organization is affiliated with the Christian Faith Fellowship Church, also in Milwaukee. The organization tutored some 40 students this past year under the federal law. The church also runs its own charter school.

SOURCE: Education Week

Seminars Have Paid Off

Since 2001, when President Bush formed the White House Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, with offshoots in agencies including the Education Department, the administration has pushed to increase the participation of religious organizations in federal programs. Mr. Bush has said such groups are well equipped to provide community services such as drug counseling and tutoring, but that traditionally they had not been encouraged to apply for federal funding.

Since then, the Education Department’s faith-based office has sponsored seminars nationwide to encourage religious groups to dip their toes into the federal grant pool. The efforts have paid off.

In January 2003, only 2 percent of the 771 NCLB supplemental-services providers on state-approved lists were faith-based organizations. By December 2004, the proportion had increased to 15 percent, Ms. Yudof said.

Under the law, students in Title I schools that have not met achievement goals after two years are permitted to transfer to other public schools. They are eligible for free tutoring after their schools have failed to make adequate progress for three years straight.

To provide tutoring services, faith-based groups must agree to avoid what the law calls “inherently religious activities” during such sessions, and must provide the tutoring to students regardless of their religious beliefs. Groups can still provide tutoring within a church or other religious building.

Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church hasn’t found the rules hard to comply with, said Mona Simms, the director of the Kentucky church’s tutoring program. While the church was tutoring students in the community for six years before getting involved in the federal program, Ms. Simms trained her staff to make sure they understood the new boundaries, she said. Her program served about 35 students under the No Child Left Behind law this past school year.

“Our main goal is to insist that the kids learn,” Ms. Simms said. In fact, it was the local, 450-student Providence school district that approached the church and asked it to become a supplemental-services provider, she said.

She said that many of the students who come to the church for tutoring do often wind up there on Sundays for religious services. And others just soak up a dose of respectful behavior.

“It’s kind of like a subliminal message,” she said.

That message makes some uncomfortable. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said while Education Department rules say overt religiosity is prohibited in tutoring programs, the Bush administration’s backing of faith-based groups communicates something different.

“This can be a very convenient way for religious organizations to get access to a large number of new potential churchgoers,” Mr. Lynn said. “Sometimes a wink is almost as powerful as a memo that says it’s OK to try to convert these kids.”

Delivering Gains

Parents don’t have to choose faith-based providers of tutoring under the federal law. Each state maintains a list of approved providers that includes both faith-based and secular organizations. A provider receives money only after a parent has chosen it.

The supplemental-services program has succeeded in attracting faith-based groups, some of which have been reluctant to move into the federal arena, where funding has strings attached.

Many churches are already providing tutoring to students and have relationships with families in the community, said the Rev. David W. Craig, the pastor at Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield, Ala.

His church was not put off by having to set its religious mission aside during tutoring.

“If we get them up to par with their reading and math, then they can read the Bible on their own,” he said. “That was our goal.”

But Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a Potomac, Md.-based group that represents for-profit education companies, including those that provide supplemental services under the No Child Left Behind Act, said while faith-based groups may be well positioned to forge relationships with schools and students, it “doesn’t mean they’re great education providers.”

“At the end of the day, it’s all about delivering educational gains, … irregardless of your tax status or your mission,” he said.

For the Bresee Foundation, a Los Angeles-based group affiliated with the First Church of the Nazarene there, part of the reason it sought state approval to tutor under the No Child Left Behind Act was its belief in the federal law, which emphasizes holding schools accountable for their students’ academic progress.

“We appreciate the federal government taking a stand to help children,” said Kynna N. Wright, the foundation’s executive director.

The foundation is in its second year as a supplemental-services provider and tutors about 150 students. But the need to separate religion from tutoring hasn’t changed the group’s mission, she added.

“We believe in being the hands of God and having the compassion of God,” Ms. Wright said. “It’s part of what we do every day.”

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