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Restriction Is Lifted on Funds for Tutors in Failing Schools

By Susan Saulny

The federal Department of Education lifted a ban yesterday that had prevented New York City from providing federally financed tutoring to students in poor failing schools - a restriction that was in place because the city's schools had been found in need of academic improvement.

Under the education law known as No Child Left Behind, financially poor students at schools designated as failing for two years in a row are entitled to free tutoring financed with federal money that the schools receive to serve their needy student populations.

In New York City, private companies dominate the competitive field of tutoring providers and can make close to $2,000 per student. Last school year, officials said 87,000 students participated in the tutoring programs, known in the law as Supplemental Educational Services.

Until earlier this year, the city's Department of Education had provided tutoring services with city teachers. But the city gave up the job, anticipating that a majority of its subdistricts would be considered failing under federal law. As the law was initially written, a failing district could not tutor its own students.

Federal education officials have now begun to give waivers - called flexibility agreements - to large urban districts that seek them. New York is the third city to receive a waiver, after Chicago and Boston.

The agreements allow more students access to tutoring services at a time when only 10 to 20 percent of eligible students are being reached, federal officials said. And the failing districts will receive a high level of scrutiny because they are being included in a new nationwide pilot program meant to gather information on the effectiveness of supplemental services.

"My top priority is raising student achievement, and I'm going to be as flexible as I possibly can to help all students," said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "This is about children's futures and ensuring that New York City's parents have as many options as possible for their children. In exchange for more flexibility, New York City has committed to being accountable for making high-quality academic help available to more students, which will lead to increased achievement."

The reversal of policy has its critics.

"This is tremendously disappointing," said City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, chairwoman of the Council's Education Committee. "The reason they were prohibited from offering supplemental education is because they've demonstrated failure. So now they're going to somehow magically be really excellent in tutoring? Explain that to me. On what possible educational grounds should they be given a waiver?"

Chad d'Entremont, an official of the National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education at the Teachers College of Columbia University, said the waivers were "essentially a practical solution."

Districts can usually provide tutoring at a lower cost than private companies, and they typically reach more children because their infrastructure is already in place, he said.

And as far as the quality of the tutoring being offered, Mr. d'Entremont said: "We know very little right now about the quality of tutoring provided by the private providers. So there's no indication that they provide higher quality tutoring services."

— Susan Saulny
New York Times


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