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Tutoring Aid Is of Concern at Hearing

Ohanian Comment: Note that the for-profit tutoring agency doesn't want local evaluation of his services or, as he terms it, a rush to judgment.

WASHINGTON, April 26 - Lawmakers expressed concern on Tuesday over the lack of information by which to judge the effectiveness of a federally financed tutoring program that is experiencing explosive growth under the No Child Left Behind law.

At the first Congressional hearing on the three-year-old tutoring program, members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce peppered witnesses with questions about the program, known as supplemental educational services. But there is little data on the new industry.

"One of the major barriers in implementing S.E.S. properly has been the complexity - the uncertainty, the unknowns," said one witness, Jeffrey Cohen, the president of Catapult Learning, a company that tutors students in 35 states. "The potential of S.E.S. programs is exciting, and the last thing we need is a rush to judgment based on anecdotes and scarce data."

This new brand of tutoring is offered to parents at no charge by private companies and other groups if their children attend a failing school. But it is virtually without regulation or oversight. Tutors are paid as much as $1,997 per child.

Much of the questioning and commentary at the hearing focused on accountability and achievement: how to measure them and whether, ultimately, they are best judged by school districts, the states, the tutoring providers, the federal government or some combination of them.

Elizabeth Swanson, the director of the Office of After School and Community Programs for the Chicago Public Schools, called for more local control of the tutoring programs. Mr. Cohen of Catapult Learning said that the marketplace would help drive out low-quality providers, and that local control would lead to more administrative burdens and higher costs.

The two other witnesses were Donna Nola-Ganey, an official with the Louisiana Department of Education, and Kevin Peasley, president and founder of the nonprofit Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation.

Representative George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee and a co-author of No Child Left Behind, said, "Someone has to take responsibility for having a well-administered program."

Mr. Miller said later, "Either we're going to have to determine what a good system looks like to help some of these states get up and running or" - he paused briefly - "I don't know what the 'or' is."

— Susan Saulny
New York Times


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