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Teachers' Union Is Approved for U.S. Tutoring Program

Ohanian Comment: This item is not an atrocity until--and unless--union tutors decide to use skill sheets and other test prep materials. If they do what teachers are capable of doing and teach students, helping them see themselves as learners, questioners, innovators, then this could be a good thing.

New York State has approved the city teachers' union's request to provide tutoring services to students in failing city schools, officials said yesterday.

The decision marks the rare entrance of a union into the hypercompetitive field of federally financed tutoring, an area that large national companies dominate in the city.

The union, the United Federation of Teachers, plans to begin offering free tutoring in the fall, joining almost 50 other private companies and community-based organizations that are approved to tutor in struggling schools under federal education law.

Under the law, No Child Left Behind, poor students at schools designated as failing for two years in a row are entitled to free tutoring financed with federal money the schools receive to serve their needy student populations. In New York City, tutoring organizations are paid $1,800 per child.

This year, 81,747 New York City students are receiving tutoring under the program. The largest provider, Platform Learning, has signed up 32,700 students.

Across the country, the provision in the law, known as Supplemental Educational Services, has set off a dash by companies eager to recruit tutors, often city teachers, and claim a piece of what experts estimate could be a $2 billion tutoring market.

Until earlier this year, the city's Department of Education provided tutoring services. But the city gave up the job, anticipating that a majority of its districts would be considered failing under federal law. Failing districts cannot tutor their own students.

Teachers can, however, serve as tutors regardless of the status of their district, said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Education.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said, "We wanted to compete with these private firms that had no connection to the schools, and we were given the green light."

Since the union's tutoring operation is not seeking to make a profit, Ms. Weingarten said, it will be able to pump more money into its work and provide classes and workshops for parents. Another advantage, she said, is that city teachers already know what is expected in the classroom, so tutoring time will be closely aligned to school standards. She added, "We decided we can compete just as well as anybody else."

Ms. Weingarten said her union took as a model the Rochester Teachers' Association, which is the largest provider of supplemental education services in Rochester. It tutors 800 children in eight schools, said its treasurer, John Pavone.

Experts in the education field who are paying particular attention to the tutoring provision in the federal law said they could think of no other examples of teachers' unions acting as official tutoring providers.

"It's taking this into a different direction, getting a teachers' union involved," said Gail L. Sunderman, a Harvard researcher who is writing a book on the federal tutoring program. "I think it speaks to the whole idea of supplemental services; it's opened up to pretty much whoever wants to do it. I can see the teachers' union having an interest in wanting to get into it."

Michelle Bodden, the union's vice president for elementary schools, said teachers would have to apply to be union tutors, and the criterion would be their experience, particularly in dealing with struggling learners. What the tutors will be paid has not been decided, she said.

Chad d'Entremont, an official of the National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education at the Teachers College of Columbia University, said it was too early to judge which kind of groups offered the best tutoring services.

He said that with the union, tutors would meet city requirements for teachers, which "might be more stringent than what private companies require of the tutors they hire."

But, he added, "The private companies might bring more flexibility and efficiency."

— Susan Saulny
New York Times
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?tntget=2005/03/19/nyregion/19tutor.html&tntemail0


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