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Research Shows Key NCLB Provision Not Helping Students

October 15, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

One of the key provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act has a nearly 100 percent failure rate in helping Minnesota schools better educate students.

New Minnesota 2020 research shows that almost no school that is forced by NCLB to offer Supplemental Education Services (outside tutoring) drops out of it. Of the 149 schools that have faced SES sanctions since the 2002-03 school year, only seven schools, or five percent, have been helped off the list by these services.

This is especially egregious because these tutors are paid by diverting up to 20 percent of the school's federal Title 1 grant money to SES providers. Title 1 offers millions to help poor children read. Prior to NCLB, this money stayed in the schools. Now it goes to these tutors.

Each spring, students take a standardized test upon which schools are rated as to their ability to have students meet a predetermined score. If all or some of the students fail to meet this level, the school is listed as not making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP). The sanctions grow increasingly serious each year AYP is missed.

One of those sanctions is SES. After three years of not making "adequate progress" on the NCLB test, schools must offer SES, which consists of tutoring sessions paid for by the school.

Tutor organizations can be for-profit or not-for-profit and include community-based and faith-based organizations with headquarters both in Minnesota and elsewhere. The Minnesota Department of Education offers a list of the approved tutor organizations.

Minnesota 2020 looked at all the schools listed each year as not making AYP and required to offer SES, then looked at the next year's AYP results to see if the schools were moved off SES, stayed on SES or moved up to the next NCLB level. Schools were counted as successful if they moved off SES or made AYP after the first year of offering SES.

As the chart shows, only those schools in the 2003-04 school year showed any success shucking off the SES requirement. That year, seven of 18 schools moved off SES while 11 made AYP but were required to continue offering SES. Every other year, SES's failure to help children was total or near total.

There are a number of other disturbing problems with SES:

First, since the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is required to make sure all SES suppliers conform their programs to both local and state educational requirements, then the tutors' failure is even more pronounced because they obviously can't provide the educational quality that schools are required to provide and that Minnesotans demand.

Second, if the problem isn't with the tutors but with the test, then the whole NCLB idea is suspect. If the test can't accurately reflect the quality of education provided by the schools or the tutors, then the test is the weak link, not the schools.

Third, the money lost on paying for these tutors comes not from state or local taxpayers, but from the federal government. This money is supposed to help schools improve education for underprivileged students. Instead, millions of dollars are wasted each year to support a tutoring industry that is failing in its primary goal.

Fourth, MDE offers contradicting requirements for the approval of tutor organizations. While their manual states "Regardless of the identity of a provider, the instruction and content must be secular, neutral and non-ideological," it also states that "faith-based organizations ... are not required to give up their religious character or identification to be providers. MDE may not discriminate against potential supplemental services providers with regard to religion. Thus, faith-based and community-based organizations are encouraged to become providers of supplemental educational services on the same basis as other eligible entities." This means that millions of federal education dollars are potentially moving to private, religious education organizations - a potential Constitutional conflict of church and state.

Fifth, SES providers are encouraged to use alternate methods of services, including online, internet and other distance-learning technologies. This means tutoring organizations can perform their duties without being in the same area code as the student or even without a live human being doing the tutoring. While new technologies can open some doors, it would be a better to spend our precious and limited education dollars on actual teachers with actual licenses teaching students in actual buildings. Now is not the time for experimentation. It is more important to make sure our students can graduate from high school.

Providing supplementary educational services is a failure. It is a poorly constructed program that produces no positive results for students or schools. Congress is scheduled to reconsider NCLB as early as this month. Policymakers would do well to reconsider the effectiveness of using inaccurate performance measures while dumping public money into an ineffective program such as SES.


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