Monroe: Free tutoring services a lifeline for many poor students in need

August 9, 2013 

Editor's note: The Bee ran a Page 1 news story July 29 and an editorial on Aug. 5 about the poor performance of many for-profit tutoring companies in California. The editorial advocated ending the tutor program because the state is not providing adequate oversight.

As the former assistant secretary of education in the Office of Civil Rights, I am very concerned with the direction states and school districts are taking with regard to free federal tutoring programs authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Through a provision called Supplemental Education Services (SES), states are eligible to grant tutoring to low-income and minority students who are not getting the individual attention and instruction they need in the classroom. However, states across the country are opting out of this program by applying and receiving waivers through the Department of Education.

This trend is alarming on a number of levels, but especially the way it disproportionately affects low-income and minority families who otherwise do not have access to extracurricular educational programs. As the states begin to implement the common core curriculum and classroom testing becomes more in line with these tougher standards, children who previously needed and had access to these critical tutoring programs will fall behind.

For so many of these children, federally funded tutoring services are nothing short of an educational lifeline in an otherwise failed education system. Equally as important, free tutoring is a parental empowerment tool for the families of Title I children who are trapped in failing schools. These are exactly the students who need the most academic attention in order to close the achievement gap.

However, under the current waiver system I previously mentioned, states are failing to meet their obligations to provide critical education support to our most vulnerable students. In other words, relieved of accountability, states are reverting to the old practice of turning their backs on poor children trapped in chronically underperforming schools.

Tutor Our Children is an organization that represents providers, community organizations and faith-based groups across the country dedicated to extending support to the most vulnerable students. For many years I have worked alongside Tutor Our Children to advocate for major reforms in the current system because free tutoring works, and we have a responsibility not only to expand access to this critical program, but also to root out the bad actors through increased accountability and reforms.

Major reforms included in Tutor Our Children's proposal include requiring providers to:

• Align tutoring curricula to state academic standards

• Show at least five years of continuous operating experience providing education instruction to youth

• Use instructional methods and materials that are research-based

• Demonstrate financial stability

• Employ tutors that meet state-determined qualifications

• Comply with an appropriate criminal background check

Additionally, as a condition for approval, the tutoring service provider should demonstrate that it meets the following requirements:

• Provides parents and the appropriate school district with information on the academic progress of the child in a format and language that parents can understand

• Ensures that instruction is consistent with the instruction provided by the school district and is aligned with the state's college and career readiness standards

• Meets all applicable federal, state, and local health, safety and civil rights laws

• Ensures that all instruction and content are secular, neutral and nonideological

Tutor Our Children also advocates establishing a mechanism for the removal of a provider who:

• Fails, for two consecutive years, to increase the academic proficiency of its students based upon pertinent evaluations

• Is found, after a full and fair investigation, to have repeatedly violated any accountability requirements

• Does not serve a state's students for any continuous two-year period

As the national debate continues in Congress to reauthorize the ESEA, it is imperative that Supplemental Education Services and free tutoring services are restored and that the program is included, with reforms, in the bill that ultimately reaches the president's desk.


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