Monday, April 04, 2005

The New Lucre In Education: "Free" Tutoring Services

One often-overlooked aspect of the No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools labeled as underperforming must offer free "outside" tutoring services to children. As reported by today's New York Times, this opportunity has not gone unnoticed by a variety a enterprising individuals and companies, some of which have already ran into "accountability" problems of their own:
Tutors are paid as much as $1,997 per child, and companies eager to get a piece of the lucrative business have offered parents computers and gift certificates as inducements to sign up, provided tutors that in some cases are still in high school, and at times made promises they cannot deliver.

This new brand of tutoring is offered to parents by private companies and other groups at no charge if their children attend a failing school. But it is virtually without regulation or oversight, causing concern among school districts, elected officials and some industry executives. Some in Congress are calling for regulations or quality standards to ensure that tutors are qualified and that the companies provide services that meet students' needs.

Experts point to the potential for fraud as a major issue. But so far, most of the problems reported appear to reflect poor management. In March, for instance, the Chicago school system asked Platform Learning Inc., the nation's largest federally financed tutoring company, to leave seven of its schools because of numerous lapses - including repeated absences by tutors - leaving hundreds of struggling students without extra help just before the Illinois Standard Achievement Test.

In one incident at the Spry Community School on the West Side of Chicago, six Platform tutors did not show up for work one day, and about 70 students wound up watching the movie "Garfield" instead of studying reading and math.

At the present, there is little to no federal regulation of this newly-born (and rapidly growing) industry. The Times reports that several hundred companies are now competing for the $200 million tutoring "market" with about 30% of the business going to a few large companies such as Platform Learning Inc.

At this time, only 11% of students that are eligible to receive tutoring are actually receiving services. The outlook for future growth is encouraging for would-be entrepreneurs:

"The potential here is unbelievable, and it's not being regulated by the states or the Education Department," said Patty Sullivan, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research group that released a study in late March examining the tutoring programs. "We're pouring a lot of money into it, and we're not sure it works. To the extent that it is going to grow, we've got to get a handle on it."

Critics are particularly concerned about aggressive marketing tactics, like the offers of computers, gift certificates and basketball tickets, though they acknowledge that such practices do not violate the law. Students are not required to enroll in a tutoring program

As a practicing classroom teacher, it's that last sentence that really concerns me most. Educators can't require that students get the extra help that they need, yet we teachers are held accountable for student progress. This complete lack of parental and student accountability is what NCLB fails to address in its current form. If NCLB is to ever work as intended, then both parents and students must also "do their part" in order to maximize pupils' chances for achieving academic success.
An Invitation: All writers and readers of education-related posts are invited to contribute to the ninth edition of The Carnival of Education. Please send your submissions to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net. We should receive your contributions no later than 10:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, April 5, 2005. The Carnival midway will open here at the 'Wonks Wednesday morning. Get the easy-to-follow entry guidelines here. View the latest edition of the Carnival there.

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