The numbers just don’t add up for Doris Sperling. There are a
handful of schools in Washtenaw County that have failed to meet Adequate Yearly
Progress standards as spelled out in the No Child Left Behind Act, but none of
the 100 low-income students her Family Learning Institute in Ann Arbor serves
are there due to the schools having notified parents that their children are
eligible for tax-funded tutoring.
"I think we had three last year, and none this year," says
Sperling, executive director of the FLI. "I haven’t really been able to pin down
why that is."
According to NCLB regulations, a school that receives Title I
money and fails to meet AYP standards for two consecutive years must set aside
at least 20 percent of its Title I dollars to pay for "supplemental educational
services (SES)," commonly called tutoring, for eligible students. Schools get
Title I money if 40 percent of students are classified as "low-income," meaning
they receive free or reduced cost lunches.
More than 100 SES providers are approved for tutoring Title I
students in Michigan, but only about 11 percent of the 103,000 eligible students
statewide received the service during the 2004-2005 school year, according to a
U.S. Department of Education audit. The lack of participation is believed to be
caused by schools not fully communicating the option to parents, or not allowing
parents enough time to sign their child up for the tutoring. Once the
application process is closed, schools can revert the Title I money back to
"I can see why schools are not thrilled to make all that money
available for the tutoring," Sperling said. "It really should have been new
money, because they were already using the Title I money for other things."
Sperling still, however, cannot understand the lack of referrals
to FLI, given the fact that Ann Arbor Public Schools, Willow Run Community
Schools and the School District of Ypsilanti all have school buildings that have
failed to meet AYP standards.
"I know some school districts started their own SES programs,
but ours is 10 times better than what they can offer," Sperling said. "I don’t
think an after-school program at a school is going to provide the one on one
attention we give. I’m afraid it just ends up being like school in the
afternoon. It’s no different than what the kids get all day."
Sperling believes the individual attention her tutors give
students is what leads to success. That includes an hour each week of one on one
instruction, half an hour of group discussion about a particular topic and half
an hour of coached writing about that topic.
"There is a psychology term called the "Matthew Principle,"
based on the Gospel of Matthew and the saying that the rich get richer and the
poor get poorer," Sperling said. "In education, a child who cannot read at grade
level by fourth grade will only fall farther and farther behind as the work gets
Sperling said the Family Learning Institute stresses individual
tutoring because the students who need help already have experience failing in a
"As other kids progress in school, these children accumulate a
sense of failure," she said. "They become intimidated by seeing the kids around
them succeed. Many come up with defense mechanisms, such as being the class
clown or being bad so they get removed."
Sperling said 63 percent of FLI’s students in 2005 increased one
grade level or more within six months.
"They can stay here as long as it takes," Sperling said.
"There’s one boy who is about to graduate from Ann Arbor Huron High School who
came to us in sixth grade and was reading at a kindergarten level. He’s now
reading at a junior high level."
Because the FLI serves strictly low-income students, it is free
of charge to them and their families. The non-profit agency operates on
donations and grants to cover rent, utilities and salaries.
"I look at the kids who come here every week and I just know
some of them have to be eligible for the Title I money to pay for their
tutoring," Sperling said. "If we were getting some money for them, we wouldn’t
have to be so strict on the low-income requirements and we could be helping even
Veronica Lake, who oversees specially funded programs for the
Grand Rapids Public Schools, said she doesn’t think school districts would
intentionally keep a student away from help in order to divert money to other
programs. She said often times parents are satisfied with the corrective
measures students receive in school, while other times parents are not involved
with their children enough to know or care that help is available.
While SES tutoring is designated for low-income students in
failing schools, other private tutoring companies offer a wide range of
services, including advanced help for students looking to challenge themselves.
"We offer everything from reading, writing and math up to ACT
and SAT preparation," according to Tobin Yoder, part owner of Edvantage
Education in Midland, which is a Sylvan Learning franchisee.
"Our math, for example, covers everything from basic
kindergarten work all the way up to calculus," Yoder said. "We also offer
courses in how to refine study skills, learn speed reading and even homework
support for things like chemistry, although that’s a little limited because we
don’t have actual science equipment."
Yoder said services can benefit students who need help as well
as those who want to get ahead and stay ahead. A four-hour assessment in reading
and math is given to each new student.
"This helps us pinpoint where they are and develop a program for
the level they’re at," he said. "For the kids who need help, it needs to be
right at their level because if it’s too difficult, it just mirrors the
frustrations they’ve been having in school."
Another advantage to basing the course of study at a student’s
current proficiency is that it allows them to experience instant success.
"We start by building the base skills, then moving up by
levels," Yoder said. "We retest them after every 36 hours of tutoring to have a
benchmark. We want to know what are they retaining, if they are progressing."
Another service Edvantage offers is student enrichment classes.
"We have kids who are going to summer camps for academically
talented students," Yoder said. "They come in to brush up on certain things and
prepare for that."
Edvantage usually provides instruction on a 3-1 ratio of
students to instructors.
"A small group like that allows for direct attention, but still
some independence," Yoder said. "We don’t hold their hand because that’s not
what happens in class."