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NCLB Outrages

Most Districts Ineligible to Tutor Under NCLB

Ohanian Comment: The deliberate erosion of public confidence in their local public school becomes more clear. Not to mention the deliberate erosion of the budget of the public schools. All in the name of coaching kids for disreputable tests.

Palm Beach County school officials thought they would be able to compete with private companies for a share of the $2.4 million they have to shell out this year for tutoring under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

They were wrong.

Despite raising student test scores to record levels and having more schools then ever reach A and B status, 65 of Florida's 67 school districts are ineligible to offer the required tutoring because they didn't meet standards under the federal act.

Instead, tutoring contracts will go to companies and community groups that do not have to provide specific proof of their successes, have any knowledge of the FCAT or meet federal standards defined as "adequate yearly progress."

The Palm Beach and Miami-Dade county school districts both applied to offer the tutoring, which is paid for with the districts' own federal Title I dollars. They initially were approved by the state.

They learned later they were ineligible, leaving a list of 106 tutoring providers made up of community groups and private, for-profit companies 20 percent of which are from out of state.

Parents can choose anyone on the list to tutor their children, but opponents of the federal law said taking school districts out of the mix entirely is another example of private companies getting an unfair advantage over public schools. In Florida's three voucher programs, private schools do not have to prove academic success to take tax dollars.

"They are holding the public schools and companies to two different standards," said Denise Cardinal, spokeswoman for the National Education Association. "The goal isn't to give private groups a monopoly on tutoring over an entire state. The goal of the law is to help students succeed."

Seminole County's school district got around the law by forming a group of three schools that did meet No Child Left Behind standards. They call themselves the "Alliance for Academic Achievement" and will be able to tutor students at their home schools with a curriculum that follows what they are doing in their regular classrooms and with teachers who know the FCAT better than out-of-state companies.

Florida Education Chancellor Jim Warford applauded Seminole's maneuver.

"Districts like Seminole aren't waiting for flexibility from Washington, and what they've done is totally appropriate," Warford said.

This is the first year Florida has to offer tutoring to students in schools that do not meet No Child Left Behind standards.

Under the 2002 federal law, a cornerstone of President Bush's 2000 election campaign, students must meet standards set by each state in eight categories, including by race, disability and poverty level.

By 2014, all students must be performing on grade level.

About 1,870 students in four Palm Beach County schools are eligible for tutoring this year: West Riviera and Lincoln elementaries in Riviera Beach, Glades Central High School in Belle Glade and Pahokee Middle/Senior High School.

Statewide, 36 schools must pay for tutoring this year.

Only students who score in the lowest two levels on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches can get tutoring.

Palm Beach County district officials expect the tutoring to cost about $2.4 million this year.

But that could grow exponentially in 2005. For the first time since 2001, the bar to make adequate yearly progress will be raised this year.

This school year, 48 percent of students must be reading on grade level and 53 percent must be doing math on grade level for schools to make adequate yearly progress. Last school year, the standards were 31 percent for reading and 38 percent for math.

Only 23 percent of Florida's schools met adequate yearly progress in 2004.

U.S. Department of Education officials said the intent of the law concerning eligible tutors was to ban low-performing schools from working with students.

"A school district identified for improvement is one that has had a couple of years of not being able to meet state goals, so there is a question if they are the best folks to provide additional services," said Carri Briggs, a senior policy adviser who works with No Child Left Behind.

But the private groups have not had to meet state standards or show specifics of their successes.

For example, Michigan's ATS Educational Consulting Services is approved to offer computer-based tutoring to Florida students through a program called Project Success. On its application, the company gave this achievement measure for its program:

"Project Success operated successfully in the Clintondale Community Schools this past summer. All students (40) made significant gains in their instructional levels in both reading and math."

The Miami-based group Cool Kids Learn answered three different questions about its track record and methods with the same response, which included no details on improved test scores.

JRL Enterprises Inc. of New Orleans is an approved Florida tutor. Its evidence of past student success is a 1995 study that found Algebra I students did better with a combination of its program and regular classes.

Warford is confident the federal government will realize that Florida's school districts are just as capable of tutoring their students as the private groups and will change the law.

"I think it's the right decision because Florida's standards are resulting in higher achievement across the board," Warford said.

Cardinal is less optimistic.

"I just don't think there was a lot of thought about how the mechanics of this law would work, and we're discovering that now," she said.

— Kimberly Miller
Palm Beach Post


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