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NCLB Outrages

School District May Rehire Tutorial Center

Ohanian Comment: Here's more proof that for some, test scores aren't everything.

The Kansas City School District last year ended a contract with a nonprofit agency providing tutorial services after administrators found no improvement in student test scores.

In fact, scores for some students being tutored by W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center Inc. declined, administrators found.

Despite the findings, DuBois representatives and school board members Marilyn Simmons and Claude Harris are pushing for the district to again hire DuBois. They say the center has a proven track record and test scores aren't the only indicator of success.

Administrator Patricia Rowles a year ago cited test scores in recommending against renewing a $200,000 contract with the center, which tutors second- through 12th-graders in reading, math, science and computers.

“Because our students did not receive any measurable educational benefit from participation in the program, the Kansas City, Missouri, School District cannot justify paying thousands of dollars for ineffective tutorial services,” Rowles, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction, wrote in a November 2003 memorandum.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor said the negative staff reports, along with declining district revenue, led him to let the $200,000 contract with DuBois lapse last year.

Last week he said he now would support a deal with DuBois for this school year because of demand from parents, expressed in public meetings and surveys.

In the past 10 years, district administrators had given good marks to DuBois. But in the past few years, administrators called for a more extensive review.

Margaret Seever, who oversees the district's evaluation department, last fall examined state and national test scores for 142 district students who received tutoring from DuBois. She found no positive effect on standardized test results or attendance rates.

But almost three-fourths of parents surveyed thought the tutoring helped their children do better on standardized tests.

Lawyers for the school district had resisted releasing the memorandum from Rowles and the evaluation from Seever, citing attorney-client privilege. The Kansas City Star pressed the district for the documents on the grounds that the public had a right to know that information. Last week the school board voted unanimously to release the documents.

Starting in 1993, the district paid for students to attend sessions at DuBois, 5501 Cleveland Ave. Between April 2001 and June 2004, the learning center received more than $589,000 from the district.

Parents of children at DuBois are asked to donate $45 per family. The center also receives other donations and funding from foundations. Kansas City is the only district to fund the center, because DuBois representatives said it would be too labor-intensive to seek money from other districts or charter schools.

Students attending reading classes Monday night and parents picking up their students complimented the program.

“It is a well-kept secret. It is the place to bring your children,” said Linda Flowers, whose daughter, RaShon Steward, began attending the center this fall.

Flowers said she had two older children go through the center. It helped prepare them for college, she said.

Terri Moore, a volunteer who serves as the center's operations manager, said she and others had worked hard to resolve the district's questions. She said district officials never had said the center's contract was contingent upon standardized test scores.

“We all understand pressure to tighten up expenditures and to have results-oriented programs,” she said. “But … they should have worked with us to get to where we need to be.”

District administrators may question DuBois' effect on test scores, but Simmons does not.

“The learning center is a jewel in this city. They have helped so many young people over the past 31 years,” she said. “You don't stay in business that long if you don't have a quality product.”

Simmons dismissed Rowles' memorandum, saying district administrators are biased against the DuBois center because of its long ties with African-centered schools and their supporters. The district's three African-centered schools use the district's curriculum to teach values and African culture, history, geography and heroes. They focus on providing a nurturing environment and boosting students' self-esteem.

The district administrators “associate the learning center with the African-centered theme,” said Simmons, who is one of the supporters of African-centered schools.

Some supporters of those schools, in public statements and court depositions, have accused Taylor of working to undermine the African-centered program. They see the debate over the effectiveness of DuBois as an extension of that and have been pushing the district to award a new contract to DuBois.

Taylor said last week that pressure from board members had nothing to do with his recommendation that the school board on Nov. 17 agree to spend up to $150,000 to offer after-school tutoring to district students. DuBois submitted a proposal for $167,000.

Besides DuBois, the only group to submit a proposal for the tutoring was the League of United Latin American Citizens in Kansas City, a civil rights organization.

Taylor said the district funding for DuBois would last just a year as a bridge to when federal money becomes available for tutoring students at consistently low-performing schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law. DuBois would have to qualify with the state to receive the federal funds.

Whatever the school board decides, DuBois will pursue its mission, said its executive director, Bill Grace.

To reach DeAnn Smith, education reporter, call (816) 234-4412 or send e-mail to dsmith@kcstar.com.

— DeAnn Smith
Kansas City Star


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