Texas tutoring system provides a lesson in dysfunction

Posted Monday, Mar. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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As with many good intentions, No Child Left Behind meant well with its tutoring mandate: low-income students at consistently struggling schools are eligible for tutoring paid by federal funds.

But as with any program that pays out tax dollars, exploiters are ready to take advantage. Without proper safeguards, neither intended beneficiaries nor taxpayers are properly served.

The NCLB law requires districts with campuses that don't make required gains on standardized test scores to set aside 20 percent of their supplemental federal funds for tutoring by outside companies. States maintain lists of eligible tutoring providers, parents choose one for their child and that student's school district pays the bill.

But the problems are well-known. Inexperienced vendors popped up. Districts found companies signing up students then pocketing the money without providing services.

Local officials' recourse is to complain to the Texas Education Agency. TEA can cancel a vendor for fraud but not for ineffectiveness at helping students.

TEA, which has received 34 complaints from districts since January, recently tightened its oversight.

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, also has filed HB 753 to give parents more information for deciding on a tutor. He told fellow members of the Texas House Public Education Committee last week that it takes 40 hours of assistance to "move the needle" on test performance. But a student's tutoring allocation -- about $1,500 in Fort Worth, not quite $1,400 in Dallas -- evaporates quicker than that.

A typical rate is $50-$80 an hour. University of Texas researcher Carolyn Heinrich told the House committee that a company was charging $157 in Dallas, the highest she's seen in the nation. She said the tutoring system is showing "very few positive impacts."

TEA's list of more than 200 approved providers grades them from three stars to five stars and links to paperwork on them, but that doesn't really help a parent know whether to choose "3Commas Tutoring" or "Kinetic Potential Scholars" or "Yo Miss! Can You Teach Me?" (bit.ly/Wi7H3G)

A request by Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams for waivers on several NCLB provisions, if approved, could release the state from the mandate. (bit.ly/VvaR4R)

That wouldn't relieve Texas schools from the responsibility of providing students with the extra help they need. But it could prevent tax dollars from getting siphoned by opportunists.

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