Monday, February 27, 2006

NCLB Compliance: How Do We Motivate The Unmotivated?

When it comes to students not taking advantage of free tutoring, what's happening in Rockford, Illinois is all too typical:
The tutoring is free, but only about half the eligible Rockford students take advantage of it.

Struggling schools with high numbers of low-income students must offer tutoring from private firms, as mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The services are free to low-income students at 11 Rockford elementary schools and one middle school.

Whether the reason is a lack of transportation or competition from other after-school programs, only 54 percent of the 1,025 spots for the program were filled this year.

Why more students don’t enter the program is a mystery to Huntington Learning Center Director Mark Rydberg. Huntington is one of seven state-approved firms Rockford schools use.

“It befuddles the mind why more parents don’t take advantage of this,” Rydberg said. “We don’t have a good reason for it. I think the district does a fair job of getting the information out to parents.”

Assistant Superintendent Linda Hernandez points out that participation in the private tutoring program has grown considerably.

Just 233 students took advantage of the free tutoring last year, up from 94 the previous year. This year, participation more than doubled to 550 students.

Participation is low nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Tutoring provided by outside firms are a centerpiece of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, but in 2005, just 12 percent of the estimated 1.9 million eligible students were enrolled.

Schools must offer tutoring services if they receive federal grant funding for poor students and fail to make adequate yearly progress on state tests for three years in a row.

Districts contract with private tutoring firms that parents can choose from. Schools must set aside money from federal grants to pick up the tab — an annual allocation of $1,547 per Rockford student for an average of 40 hours of tutoring.

There is no state or federal data on how effective the programs are, but principals locally say the quality is largely dependent on how good the tutor happens to be.

Beyer Elementary Principal William Sadler said he does not offer parents his opinion on which tutoring program might be the best. It is left to parents to sort through the seven options and figure which one might best suit their students.

“I definitely encourage the tutoring. The more help any child gets, the stronger they can be,” Sadler said. “Obviously (how effective it is) depends on getting the right program and the right tutor.”

There is no single reason that officials point to why more students don’t get the tutoring.

While Huntington Learning Center requires students who want tutoring to go to their State Street center, other providers, like Brain Hurricane, supply tutors who run after-school sessions at a few Rockford schools, including Haskell Elementary. Another provider tutors students on the Internet.

During a recent Brain Hurricane tutoring session at Haskell, students ate a snack and watched an educational movie under the supervision of Rockford College students who work for the tutoring company.

The kindergarten, first- and second-graders twisted their arms and bodies into the shape of letters and sounded out the letters.

Federal education officials point to several possible factors for low participation. Only a few appear possibly applicable to Rockford: competition with pre-existing after-school programs, transportation problems, and parents not understanding informational materials.

At Nashold Elementary School, the School District’s more established 21st Century Learning Center after-school program provides some stiff competition for the federally mandated offerings.

There, 120 low-income students participate in the after-school program and 47 are on the waiting list. The after-school programming includes extra help from Nashold teachers. And the after-school program provides transportation to the students that is unavailable for the tutoring.

Only 16 Nashold students take advantage of tutoring programs under the federal law.

Assessments appear to show those students have benefited from the tutoring, Rundall said.

“Thank goodness we have been lucky and our tutors are outstanding,” Rundall said.

Wilson Middle School Principal Thomas Schmidt said that because tutors have relatively few students to work with, they can have a great deal of impact. But because there is no national or state data on how effective the tutoring programs are, it is difficult to say whether tutoring will lead to better scores on state tests.

Charles Gray, the parent of a seventh-grader at Wilson Middle School, said he would recommend the tutoring program to other parents. His son raised his math grade more than one letter grade to a B last year.

“Having the one-on-one attention was really beneficial for him,” Gray said.
In our own junior high here in California's "Imperial" Valley, we encourage those students who are in need to take advantage of our tutoring program. (The tutors are college students who assist kids in our campus library after school.)

Unfortunately, because we do not make the tutoring mandatory, many students and parents fail to grasp the importance of "getting caught up," and so do not take advantage of the services offered.
See our latest education-related posts right here.