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Tutoring rules absurd: No Child Left Behind delivers more hoops

Editorial

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Volusia County School District is required to offer parents a chance to transfer their children to other public schools if the schools don't meet certain federal standards, or to offer free, private tutoring.

That sounds fair if the schools are truly failing, but that definition doesn't apply to any of Volusia's schools. Twenty-eight Volusia schools that earned either "A" or "B" grades from the state in the last year didn't make "adequate yearly progress" by unrealistic federal measures. That meant the district had to send letters to 21,384 parents, offering free transfers or free tutoring for children in those schools.

The federal law also required the school district to set aside $2.7 million to pay for transfers or tutoring -- money that the district wanted to use to help low-performing children improve. (The same law required the Flagler County School District to set aside $250,000.)

But here's what happened. When offered the opportunity, parents of only 346 children opted for transfers. An additional 583 schoolchildren qualified for tutoring. That will cost the Volusia district about $500,000 to $600,000 -- leaving $2 million tied up in bureaucratic red tape. The district is seeking waivers to release those funds before the beginning of the second semester, but the set-aside jeopardizes beneficial programs.

Those absurdities alone should be enough to revise the federal criteria. But there's more.

Schools that have not made "adequate yearly progress" cannot offer tutoring services. Those services must come from private tutoring entities whose credentials are approved by the state, but which are not required by federal law to use certified teachers or even tutors with bachelor's degrees. Tutoring services do have to show their programs have been successful but only abstractly -- because the tutoring process under No Child Left Behind does not begin until this fall.

There is no guarantee under No Child Left Behind that schoolchildren will be getting the tutoring they deserve. Local districts have no oversight to ensure anything other than safety -- and that's only if the tutoring takes place at the public schools.

Of the 43 state-approved tutors for Volusia County, some have strong, proven credentials, such as Sylvan Learning Centers and A+ Tutoring. Another potentially good option is a nonprofit group put together by administrators and certified teachers in the Volusia school district. But the rest of the tutoring providers are unknown entities. Many are going for online tutoring, an option that is cheaper but of questionable effectiveness when used for elementary school pupils who respond better to person-to-person tutoring.

Confused? Imagine being a parent trying to decide what's best for your child.

The problem remains with the federal law which sets incomprehensible standards. How, for instance, can Florida schools receive an "A" grade under state measures and be punished under federal standards? The answer is that No Child Left Behind uses the same test scores -- Florida Comprehensive Achievement Tests -- but sorts scores by race, family income, disability and 27 other categories. If a school fails to make progress in just one category -- say children who speak English as a second language -- it fails to make "adequate yearly progress."

Meanwhile, No Child Left Behind is draining resources from Title I schools -- those with high concentrations of poverty which need the most-specialized and often more-costly programs.

The federal act has made a mockery out of education reform by creating a system that pleases the politicians but confuses parents and hurts children who need the most help. The pity is, Washington's political leaders don't want to be bothered with critical revisions in the law.

— Editorial
News-Journal Online
2005-09-27
http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/Opinion/Editorials/03OpOPN56092705.htm


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