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Killed by Silence

Tutoring component of NCLB fails to meet its mark.



Joyce Anderson has been the principal at Klondike Elementary for only two years, but she has already been saddled with some tough challenges. When she came to Klondike last year, it wasn't meeting national standards set by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. This year, Klondike was moved to the high-priority category.

The designation makes Klondike students eligible for free tutoring through an NCLB mandate, Supplementary Education Services (SES). But according to Anderson, the program has been less than a success.

"I could have had tutors in this school three weeks after school started," she says. But none of the state-accredited providers contacted her until recently.

"You have 250 children who are just dangling out there, waiting for help," she says. "It's now five weeks before TCAP [the statewide standardized test]. Sure, one provider says we can tutor after the TCAP, but I need the bang on the buck on the front end."

Anderson and her students are not alone. In Memphis, SES received between 5 and 15 percent of the NCLB's Title 1 budget each year, approximately $5 million. But according to Aubrey Bond, the local director of NCLB, the program rarely uses its full budget. In Memphis, only about 10 percent of children eligible for free tutoring enroll. Nationally, that number is 12 percent.

Part of the problem, according to both Bond and Anderson, is the restrictions on interaction between schools and the outside tutoring providers as stipulated by NCLB guidelines. School employees are not allowed to approach outside providers or recommend providers to parents unless expressly asked by the parent. School employees must wait on state-approved providers and hope parents will make the effort to select the right provider for their child.

"NCLB has to send out letters," says Anderson. "Some [parents] respond and some do not."

According to Bond, employees who interact with outside providers could be liable under law. "If a teacher or principal was at liberty to recommend someone," says Bond, "can you foresee the hanky-panky going on between providers and staff?"

But it is these restrictions, says Anderson, that are harming her school and her students. "If I could just say to these parents, we have a tutoring program and your kid needs to be in it, those parents would get their kids here," she says. "You have a wonderful opportunity for children to receive services, but you are handcuffed. You sit there drained, because you can't break the law."

The last study released by NCLB shows that in school districts where the systems were providers and SES funds were moved in-house, student attendance at tutoring programs was significantly higher.

Bond says SES is a mandate that could be rethought. He and Anderson both hope to see a change from external providers to in-house tutoring with SES funds. In the meantime, Anderson has hired three of her own teachers -- with funds from her school's regular budget -- and recruited volunteers for an after-school tutoring program.

"I am very frustrated and so are my teachers," she says. "We have just been killed by silence."

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