To the Editor:
A recent entry in the Sputnik blog on edweek.org argues that tutoring for low-income students has not done much to turn around failing schools, and thus is not an effective program (“Supplemental Education Services: Noble Idea + Unreasonable Expectations = Disappointing Results,” Oct. 19, 2011).
Guest blogger Steven Ross, however, misunderstands the purpose of tutoring. It was never intended to turn around failing schools. It was meant to provide a leg up to students trapped in failing schools while those schools work to improve. By the writer’s own admission, tutoring has achieved that end. As Mr. Ross notes in his post: “A student participating in SES could advance from the 25th to 27th or 28th percentile, while a comparable non-SES student would remain in the 25th percentile. For an intervention lasting only 30 to 60 hours per student, some might view such effects as a reasonable return.” A study released by the U.S. Department of Education in March found that tutoring led to significant gains in math and reading achievement. Studies by the Chicago public schools and the Rand Corp. agreed.
There is no question that the tutoring program needs some improvement. Indeed, a bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposes many of the improvements cited in the blog. It also would give states the freedom, and indeed the responsibility, to kick out providers who aren’t making the grade.
Mr. Ross is right that the tutoring program needs improvement, but sorely mistaken that its results have been disappointing.
Tutor Our Children Coalition
The writer served as U.S. assistant secretary of education for civil rights from 2005 to 2009.
A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as Tutoring Program Works, Even if It Could Improve