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NCLB Outrages

U.. S. Aid Finances Tutors in India

Ohanian Comment; As the reporter observes, the real concern here is the absence of federal guidelines for who gets licensed to be an NCLB tutor. The feds label experienced teachers "not qualified" and then lets any Joe Blow set up a tutoring agency.

Outsourcing -- a practice that already has sent auto, steel and high-tech jobs abroad -- is emerging as an issue in a seemingly unlikely industry: student tutoring.

Indian companies such as Educomp Datamatics in West Delhi and Career Launcher in New Delhi are offering Internet-based tutoring services to American students.

The practice, also known as offshoring, is drawing attention in New York, where several firms licensed by the state to tutor students in poor-performing schools have dipped their toes in the overseas talent pool.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates testing and says the students in low-scoring schools are entitled to extra help, provides federal funds for such tutoring -- estimated to be a $2 billion industry.

At least two of the companies licensed in New York, Brainfuse Online Instruction and Tutor.com, have either hired or looked at hiring overseas tutors.

That has prompted criticism by teachers unions and the state School Boards Association.

"We're very concerned about that," said Maria Neira, vice president at New York State United Teachers, the state's major teachers union. "We think we have very good, qualified teachers here."

"It's sparked quite a bit of interest," agreed Nancy Van Meter, a deputy director of the American Federation of Teachers, NYSUT's national affiliate.

Van Meter said hearings are set next week in Congress about NCLB's tutoring provisions and the offshoring issue is likely to come up then. Part of the issue revolves around whether federally funded tutoring jobs should stay in the United States or go overseas.

Moreover, critics say the offshoring question underscores another concern -- what some say is the absence of federal guidelines for who gets licensed to be an NCLB tutor. Possibly complicating the issue will be payments to tutors. Reports indicate India-based tutors are being paid less than $300 monthly.

"While No Child Left Behind requires highly qualified teachers in the classroom ... the Department of Education has not made that a requirement for SES (tutoring) providers," said Dave Ernst, spokesman for the state School Boards Association. "That's an inconsistency."

Tutoring firms are reluctant to discuss the practice.

When contacted by the Times Union, George Cigale, chief executive officer of the New York City-based Tutor.com, said he believed the issue was "overblown."

He added that his firm is not currently offering tutoring under NCLB, focusing instead on privately paid tutoring sessions and a homework assistance service offered through public libraries. "We do not actively use overseas tutors," added Cigale.

But in last week's Education Week, a publication that follows education issues, Cigale is quoted as saying his company's use of off-shore tutors allowed an expansion of hours, thanks to time zone differences between the U.S. and foreign countries.

Brainfuse officials said they have looked at offshore tutors, although they haven't used them for NCLB tutoring, largely because of logistical concerns about getting reliable Internet connections with school libraries where the students would be.

"We have some tutors from overseas, but we are approaching it with some caution," said Francesco Lecciso, a director at Brainfuse of New York City.

Lecciso did allow that in some cases it would be helpful to work with Indian tutors, given the number of people there who have high-level math skills.

Tutors in Indian cities like New Delhi or Bangalore are already helping kids in Colorado and California over the Internet, reports said. "That's certainly an area where there might be possibilities," Lecciso said.

Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at rkarlin@timesunion.com.

— Rick Karlin
Albany Times-Union


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