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NCLB Outrages

Report on Tutoring Firms Cites Problems in New York

Ohanian Comment: The Business Roundtable continually screams, "Why can't schools operate like businesses?" Now they are. Here's the business model for dealing with children: "I'm hard pressed to think of something they didn't try that didn't skirt the boundaries of ethical behavior," Mr. Condon said. And note that this business model is also described as a Wild West of entrepreneurs. Sort of makes you long for some vigilantes.

We've been keeping track of educational entrepeneurship, a term to freeze your heart. But it's what the U. S. Department of Education wants. "We want as little regulation as possible so the market can be as vibrant as possible," Michael Petrilli, an official with the federal Education Department, told tutoring company officials at a recent business meeting organized by the education industry. http://susanohanian.org/show_nclb_atrocities.html?id=1191

Of course this story is not new. Over a year ago we read Test Firm Bribing Kids Just to Show Up. And just a year ago, Platform Learning was kicked out of 7 Chicago schools.

Here's how Platform Learning describes itself: Platform was founded in March 2003. Its founders Jason Green, Matthew Fields, Gene Wade, and Juan Torres started Platform out of a deep, personal commitment to bringing high quality instructional services to students and communities that historically have been underserved by traditional public schools.

Operating on a protect-business model, the Feds, not the locals, get to decide when to fire a tutoring company. See State seeks to beef up monitoring of private tutors


Peter Campbell Comment: After fingerprints were checked, he wrote, it was determined that several Platform employees had been arrested for crimes including attempted murder and the sale of drugs, and that several Newton employees had been arrested for crimes including robbery and the criminal sale of a controlled substance. Clearly this is what it means to be a "highly qualified" supplemental educational services provider.

By Elissa Gootman

Tutoring companies, rushing to tap into money available under the federal No Child Left Behind law, offered New York City principals thousands of dollars for school projects, doled out gift certificates to students and hired several workers with criminal backgrounds, according to a report released yesterday.

The report also found that some school officials improperly gave tutoring companies confidential information about schoolchildren, including phone numbers and addresses, which the companies used to track down prospective students.

The report, by Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for the city school system, focused on the practices of tutoring companies in the 2003-4 and 2004-5 school years. While many of the problems have been addressed, the report said, his office has received complaints as recently as this year.

The offer of free tutoring for poor children in failing schools is a cornerstone of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, but getting students to participate has been problematic. During the 2004-5 school year, fewer than half of the 215,000 New York City students who were eligible took advantage of the tutoring, according to the City Department of Education, and tutoring companies were paid $74.3 million for their involvement in the program that year.

The report said that the practices "may have violated" New York City's conflict-of-interest policies, but does not find evidence of criminal wrongdoing or of personal gain by school officials.

In a phone interview, Mr. Condon described a climate of intense competition for the federal money as companies wooed both principals, who control access to space within their buildings for the after-school tutoring sessions, and prospective students, whose participation is directly linked to the companies' gains.

"I'm hard pressed to think of something they didn't try that didn't skirt the boundaries of ethical behavior," Mr. Condon said.

David Cantor, a spokesman for the City Department of Education, said the department had already tightened and clarified its policies on tutoring companies and would make further changes based on Mr. Condon's recommendations. He acknowledged that in the early days of the tutoring program, which the city introduced three years ago, before most other districts in the country, there were wrinkles.

"You were suddenly faced with a Wild West of entrepreneurs, and you make mistakes as you try to get it right," Mr. Cantor said. "Hopefully we have made changes that will help us offer the services more effectively and fairly."

In his investigation, which included more than 100 interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents, Mr. Condon homed in on the activities of the two tutoring companies with the largest presence in New York City: Platform Learning, which was founded in 2003, and, to a lesser degree, Newton Learning, a division of Edison Schools. Yesterday, both companies defended their records, saying they had already changed many of their practices.

"To our knowledge we have fully and aggressively addressed all concerns that were raised throughout the investigation," said a statement from Platform released yesterday. The statement also said the company would work with the city system to "address any remaining concerns."

A spokeswoman for Newton Learning, Laura Eshbaugh, said the company "has tried hard to be responsive to all the concerns that have been raised by the district."

The investigation suggested the companies' practices were not unique, and that other companies also "engaged in questionable practices."

The inquiry began in September 2004, after a supervisor in the school system complained that a Platform Learning representative had approached several principals with an offer to pay each of their schools $5,000 if they enrolled 150 or more students in Platform's program.

According to the report, Michael Davis of Platform gave $2,000 to a renovation fund for Public School 89 in Queens at the request of Casper Cacioppo, the principal. Mr. Cacioppo told investigators that he thought his request was permitted.

He did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

The report also said that Mr. Davis gave $500 for a scholarship fund to Everett Hughes, the principal of Intermediate School 292 in Brooklyn. Mr. Hughes said he had not requested the money. He also did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Another Platform representative gave $1,500 to Public School 123 in Manhattan, the report found.

In another case, a principal claimed that a different Platform representative had offered her a trip to Puerto Rico, but the representative denied it.

The report found that a variety of incentives were offered to students, including gift certificates, CD players and tickets to sporting events. In some cases, the offers were withdrawn after questions were raised.

The report also found that Platform employees, using information from school officials, inappropriately recruited students at their homes, even suggesting, incorrectly, that children had to apply for tutoring to get free lunch. In some cases, the report said, the officials denied giving out student information.

Mr. Condon said one of his most disturbing findings was that the tutoring companies had failed to check employees' backgrounds, in some cases because of holes in City Education Department rules that have since been tightened.

After fingerprints were checked, he wrote, it was determined that several Platform employees had been arrested for crimes including attempted murder and the sale of drugs, and that several Newton employees had been arrested for crimes including robbery and the criminal sale of a controlled substance.

Mr. Cantor said that several Platform representatives named in the report would be barred from the city schools, and that the company would not be able to enroll any new students until it proved that its policies had changed. The department, he said, was still considering how and whether to discipline principals and parent coordinators mentioned in the report.

— Elissa Gootman
New York Times
2006-03-08


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