No child left untutored?

Available tutoring program goes unused

Administrators at 80 public school districts around Michigan that are required to pay for tutoring services under the No Child Left Behind Act are trying to figure out how best to alert the parents of eligible students.

"We’re still struggling to implement NCLB because the more we understand, the more difficult it gets," Veronica Lake, who oversees specially funded programs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, told Michigan Education Report. "We’re coming up with appropriate ways to get the information to parents, using different forms of media."

The law is supposed to work like this: schools that receive Title I funds and are classified as "in need of improvement" for two consecutive years under NCLB’s Adequately Yearly Progress requirements are supposed to allocate at least 20 percent of their Title I budget to pay for private tutoring, known as "supplemental educational services." The money also can be used to transport students who wish to attend another school. A Title I school is one wherein 40 percent of students are classified as low-income, meaning they receive free or reduced cost lunches.

The legislation requires that districts notify parents of eligible students, but some say the window of opportunity is too short for parents to fully understand the situation, research their options and make the appropriate arrangements. Once the sign-up period expires, schools can redirect the money away from tutoring and back to other programs.

A U.S. Department of Education audit from 2005 found only 11 percent of the 103,282 Michigan students eligible for tutoring actually received the services. Michigan has about 1.7 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, told The Detroit News at the time that the state was not willfully out of compliance, but that the law is so complex that it has to be implemented in stages.

Ackley said part of the corrective action the state has taken requires school districts to submit samples of letters sent to parents, notifying them that their child is eligible for tutoring. Department of Education employees making site visits to schools and at regional workshops also have addressed this issue. Ackley said school districts are doing things other than sending letters, such as visiting PTA meetings, making information available in other languages, addressing the issue during parent-teacher conferences, extending or eliminating registration deadlines, and having counselors call parents directly.

Lake said Grand Rapids began notifying parents of students eligible for tutoring in late October. About 200 students out of a possible 1,400 signed up during a 30-day period the district gave parents to enroll their children.

"We closed the window, but it wasn’t a tight closure," Lake said. "We had a provider fair in January, where the tutoring companies were able to talk with parents and explain what they have to offer. We also had a few providers drop out, so we waited until students could be reassigned."

Lake said that by mid February, when the sign-up period closed officially, the number of students had doubled, to 400. That still left 1,000 eligible students who are not receiving tutoring, but Lake said a variety of factors come in to play.

"You have a certain percentage that just aren’t going to be involved, no matter how many ways you try to contact the parents," she said. "Then you have another group of parents who know their child may be eligible, but they’re satisfied with what is occurring during the school day, with intervention programs and extra attention, and our after-school programs."

Figures from the Michigan Department of Education show 2,356 students in GRPS were eligible for tutoring during the 2004-2005 school year. Of the 384 who applied, 292 received services.

Lake said, however, that the bottom line is the law must be followed.

"The law says children have a right to these services," she said. "As a parent, if my child were struggling, I’d want them to get help. Whatever has to happen to do what’s best for the kids, that’s where districts need to beef up their responsibility."

Elsewhere in Michigan, school districts are having varying degrees of success in meeting the law’s requirements, according to Michigan Department of Education figures. Battle Creek Public Schools, for example, had 1,624 students eligible for tutoring, with only eight students applying for help and six receiving it. In Detroit Public Schools, the largest district in the state, 40,199 students were eligible for tutoring last year. A little more than 10,730 applied for it, and just over 6,000 received it. In the Armada schools, all six students who were eligible for tutoring received it.

The problem exists, however, not just in Michigan. Districts around the nation recount a similar pattern. The New York Times, for example, reported that less than half of the 215,000 eligible students in New York City received the after-school tutoring. In California, slightly more than 95,500 students out of a possible 800,000 got help. In Los Angeles, 5,000 students out of 50,000 who were eligible were tutored, and in Maryland, 558 of a possible 19,500 were helped. The Kansas City Star reported on a similar situation in the Kansas City, Mo., schools, where not even all of the 1,305 students who sought tutoring help received it, and some 14,000 others who were eligible did not even sign up.

The U.S. Department of Education says that nationally, only 12 percent of eligible students received tutoring, or 226,000 out of 1.9 million.