Hoover Institution: Are Supplemental Education Services Being Derailed?; Education Next Uncovers a Threat to NCLB's Popular Tutoring Provision
Ohanian Comment: One can wonder if the people at Hoover Institution, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and Manhattan Institute have undertaken a study of the various tutoring vendoring operations offered by corporate America. That said, and though they don't reveal their own conflicts of interest, I think these fellows are right in worrying about financially-strapped schools' conflict of interest in notifying parents about their right to free tutoring.
This week, in response to the skyrocketing demand for Supplemental Education Services (SES), Education Secretary Margaret Spellings granted No Child Left Behind's first waivers, making free tutoring more accessible to the students who need it.
In Chicago, the Education Department is allowing public schools to provide tutoring to struggling students even though the district itself has not met academic standards. In Virginia, four school districts are being permitted to offer tutoring, rather than choice, as the first option for students in schools in the first year of improvement under NCLB.
It is likely that the precedent-setting waivers will pave the way for action by many other states. However, as districts and private providers gear up to battle for the afterschool rush and the $2.5 billion in federal money that comes with it, a new study in Education Next warns that, despite Secretary Spelling's support for SES, an inherent conflict of interest built into the law could prove SES's undoing.
School districts have been given the authority to monitor afterschool education vendors even while acting as vendors themselves, explains Harvard University's Paul E. Peterson, the study's author. School districts control access to students, parents, and the terms of the contracts with private providers. In many cases they also supply their own supplemental services.
Peterson points out that even failing districts, nominally prohibited from providing such services, can divert the afterschool monies to their own use simply by suppressing parental demand for the programs, which are voluntary.
In 2003-04, 218,031 students, 11.3 percent of those eligible, participated in afterschool programs -- double the previous year. With only 2 percent of the $2.5 billion tapped so far, the competition for the afterschool dollar will no doubt intensify, as will the incentives to control those dollars.
"Since the school districts get to keep every dollar not spent on the afterschool program and deploy those dollars for programs of their own, they have a clear financial disincentive to encourage student participation in the program," Peterson writes.
Despite tighter federal guidelines issued in June 2005, local districts continue to have a great deal of latitude when negotiating contracts with providers. Peterson has four recommendations to fix the problems with SES:
1.) Afterschool programs should be made available to students attending any school found failing after one year. Currently, students are eligible for services only after a school has been found to be failing for three consecutive years. Secretary Spelling has cut this to two years in certain cities, which is a step in the right direction. But there is no justification for any waiting period, once a school has been found wanting
2.) To avoid conflicts of interest, a new agency should certify and sign contracts with providers. This agency should hire parent advocates who inform families of the offerings and performance record of available providers.
3.) To eliminate the incentive of school districts to minimize student participation in afterschool programs, any unused portion of the 20 percent set-aside for supplemental services should be returned to the federal treasury if a district is not serving at least 25 percent of its eligible students.
4.) To ascertain the impact of afterschool, and many other, education interventions, all states should follow the test-score performance of individual students (as is the case in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas).
Read "Changing the Rules as You Play the Game" in the new issue of Education Next now online at http://www.educationnext.org
Paul E. Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, is the editor in chief of Education Next and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
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