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NCLB Outrages

Failing Teacher Will Fail as Tutor, Says Education Department

Ohanian Comment: Here we see further attempts by the Feds to erode public respect for teacher savvy, experience, and knowledge of the students in the school. Good for the Chicago schools CEO for standing firm.

A new tutoring program for 37,000 students by Chicago public school teachers should never have started because it will likely have teachers in failing schools tutoring kids, a federal official said.

"If a district has failed to raise student achievement during the regular school day, then what confidence should a parent have that they could raise student achievement after school?" said Nina Rees, assistant deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.

The $11 million program, funded by the federal No Child Left Behind law, must be dismantled or funded locally if the Chicago school district fails to meet federal testing standards this year, Rees said. Chicago will learn its status in the next month or two. The program began Monday.

Schools CEO Arne Duncan responded angrily, vowing to carry on with the program as is. The feds want him to shift the nearly 37,000 students to private tutors, who are more expensive. If Duncan did that, only about 9,000 of the 37,000 could be served.

"We're not going to let 30,000 kids lose desperately needed programming," Duncan said Wednesday. "If this is what federal bureaucrats want, that shows how far out of touch they are with reality.... I can't believe that's the intent of the law."

The Illinois State Board of Education appears to be backing Duncan. It plans to ask the feds for a one-year exemption for Chicago and 10 other districts also at risk of failing to meet federal standards, including Cicero, Elgin and Springfield.

"We're about making sure kids get the service they need," said Becky Watts, the state board spokeswoman. "And disrupting that in the middle of the year is going to be harmful."

The No Child Left Behind law requires districts to offer tutoring for schools that don't meet federal testing goals. If a district as a whole meets the testing goals, it can run its own tutoring program. If it fails to meet the goals two years in a row, a district must use private tutors, Rees said.

Chicago landed on a "needs improvement," or failing, list in 2003. Like all Illinois districts, Chicago must wait into well into the school year to learn its 2004 results. Most observers expect it to fail again.

"It's not difficult to figure out it'll be on the 'needs improvement' list," Rees said, adding that she has talked with CPS and state officials about the issue. "To say they didn't know is a little disingenuous."

Duncan rejected Rees' claims, saying it's not a given CPS will fail to meet testing goals, noting improved scores this year. Duncan said the feds have known about Chicago's program for months. U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige praised CPS in April for recruiting parents early.

"The feds supported us in doing this," Duncan said. "They knew the whole program."

If Chicago lands on the failing list, it has two options, Rees said. It could shift as many of the 37,000 CPS-tutored students as it can afford to private tutors. CPS has $45 million to spend. Private tutoring averages $1,200 per student. CPS tutoring costs $300 per student.

Alternatively, it could continue the $11 million CPS tutoring program, but pay for it with other money: "If they don't have the money, they can't run it, but most districts find a way to subsidize the program," Rees said.

— Kate N. Grossman
Chicago Sun-Times


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