Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Tutoring Gap

Congress has been hearing some shocking allegations that many "at risk" children who are entitled to free tutoring services aren't receiving them:
Schools are blocking huge numbers of poor children from getting free tutoring, civil rights advocates and private tutoring companies said Thursday.

In a Capitol meeting sponsored by House and Senate education leaders of both parties, tutoring providers pointed to what they called an unkept federal promise.

Low-income parents are supposed to get a free tutor for any child who goes to a school that gets federal poverty aid but has not made steady progress for three straight years.

Parents get to pick the tutor they want -- even a private one -- from a state list.

But that central pledge of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law is often not being met.

Only 11 percent of eligible children, or 226,000 out of nearly 2 million students who qualify, received tutoring in the 2004 school year, according to the Education Department.

The numbers of underserved kids could be even higher because data collection is not always strong.

"There are millions of eligible students who are not getting services," said Jeff Cohen, president of Catapult Learning, which is providing tutoring to roughly 50,000 children this year. "We have got to correct that. At its face value, it's wrong."

The low numbers of tutored students are not because of a lack of interest, but because some schools make getting help nearly impossible for parents, tutoring advocates said. Their examples:

Publicity that is so filled with jargon that parents don't understand it. "It needs to say two words: free tutoring," said Leigh Hopkins, vice president for education at Public/Private Ventures, a nonprofit think tank.

Registration sessions are held in the middle of the work day, when parents cannot attend.

School administrators and school board members who make it difficult for tutors to get time or space inside schools, or even to talk directly to teachers.

Panelists also spoke of schools and districts that dissuade parents from accepting tutoring on grounds that it would eat up federal aid that schools need for other reasons.

There are separate problems with tutoring, a review by the independent Center on Education Policy shows. Many states say they have little ability to oversee the quality of the tutoring providers, and little proof that tutoring has boosted academic achievement.

The Education Industry Association, a lobbying group for more than 800 corporate and individual members who provide services, organized the meeting. The tutoring provision is a lucrative opportunity for the industry, particularly as the doors to more schools open.

But the event was also sponsored by the Republican chairmen and top Democrats of the House and Senate education committees, who have heard complaints that the law isn't working.

None of those lawmakers attended.

In its new public relations campaign, the industry lobbying group plans to spotlight districts that have embraced tutoring -- and expose ones that deny access.

The Education Department has also sought to publicize school systems that have been successful in enrolling students. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has even bent the federal rules in Boston, Chicago and New York City to try to expand access for children.

Advocates want more aggressive federal enforcement, but deputy assistant secretary Holly Kuzmich said it's hard for the department to "resolve problems in 15,000 school districts."
If the facts are as stated, then this is doing our children a grave disservice.
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