Schools Forced to Cut Tutoring to Buy Tutoring
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'No Child' provision's odd effect: Expensive outside instruction will trump in-house programs and lead to fewer students getting remedial after-school help
Fewer south suburban children will get academic help after school this year because of a provision in the federal No Child Left Behind Act intended to provide students with extra help.
Districts are cutting tutoring programs that they ran, in order to pay for tutoring programs — most of them run by private companies — that are required by the federal law. The result in some districts will be that far fewer children will get after-school help with reading and math.
Dolton School District 149 ran a 10-week after-school "extended day" program in all of its schools last year. The program, designed to help low-achieving students, featured 10 students per class and reading and math instruction by certified district teachers, said Alicia Geddis, director of technology, grants and publications in the district. It was paid for with Title I funds, federal money earmarked to supplement instruction for low-income students.
Last year, about 250 students got "extended day" tutoring twice a week.
This year, the district will pay for between 50 and 60 students at Dirksen Middle School in Calumet City to be tutored by a private company. The district is negotiating with Sylvan Education Solutions LLC to provide tutoring, Geddis said.
"We won't be able to serve the same number of kids we would have. We can't afford it," Supt. Traci Brown said.
No Child Left Behind requires districts with underperforming schools to set aside nearly 20 percent of their federal poverty funds to pay for children to transfer to other schools and for remedial math and reading help.
The tutoring, which can be given by any of 17 approved providers in the state, must be offered to low-income students at schools that failed to meet benchmarks on state tests for at least three consecutive years.
In the south suburbs, 22 schools in 11 districts must offer low-income students the extra academic help.
District leaders say the federal mandate requiring the outside tutoring at Dirksen leaves no money to help kids in the district's other schools. Two of those schools had to offer students the right to transfer to better-performing schools this year and will be forced to offer private tutoring next year if they don't make the grade on standardized tests.
There won't be money to provide tutoring to all Dirksen students who qualify, school leaders said.
Dolton is not the only district eyeing cuts to after-school programs to pay for required outside tutoring. Patton School District 133 is required to offer tutoring at its grammar school.
Supt. Frankie Sutherland said the district may have to cut after-school or summer programs paid for with Title I money — and open to many students — in order to pay for private tutoring for a few.
Dolton West School District 148 has run district-wide reading programs for needy students in the past, Supt. Dorothea Fitzgerald said. But this year, Roosevelt Elementary School is required to provide tutoring.
"Now we can only focus on that one school because that's where the mandate is, which is disappointing for the other schools," Fitzgerald said.
Nina Rees, deputy undersecretary of innovation and improvement for the U.S. Department of Education, said if district tutoring programs were working, the schools would be meeting state standards and wouldn't be required by the federal government to pay for outside help.
"One of the reasons why we need to put in place sanctions is to ensure that students get the assistance they need to bring achievement levels up," Rees said.
While many districts in the south suburbs have seen increases in Title I money this year, the additional money is generally not enough to offset the cost of tutoring districts have to budget for.
Most south suburban districts have not finalized arrangements with outside tutoring companies.
But Chicago Public Schools report the 10 outside vendors that will be contracted to give academic help to its students are charging between $25 and $65 per hour per child. Students are guaranteed four hours of tutoring per week, resulting in an average cost of $1,500 per child, district spokeswoman Joi Mecks said.
Using those figures, District 149 could end up paying $90,000 to tutor 60 kids. But Dirksen had 900 students eligible for tutoring based on the percentage of low-income students who attend the school.
One District 149 principal suggested the extended day program's impact shouldn't be exaggerated, even though it was popular with some students and parents.
"It was of some benefit, but I don't think it's going to make or break the school," said Kenneth Figurelli, principal of Sibley Elementary School, where 100 students participated in the extended day program last year. The hours kids spent in tutoring is just a fraction of the time they spend in school, Figurelli said.
Some private companies are promising districts that every child enrolled in their tutoring programs will see one year of growth in either reading or math.
Don Full, who oversees the choice and tutoring provisions of No Child Left Behind for the Illinois State Board of Education, said districts can get back any unused money they set aside for tutoring and choice.
But if suburban districts are charged rates similar to those offered in Chicago, there won't be money left over.
"The 20 percent doesn't nearly pay for the number of students eligible for choice transportation or supplemental educational services," Mecks said.
Enrolling all eligible Chicago students in outside tutoring would cost the district $200 million — and send all but a fraction of the district's Title I grant to private companies.
Schools forced to cut tutoring to buy tutoring
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