The little statute that couldn't

Remember that small law named No Child Left Behind? While Washington has been swept up in talk of RTT, SIG, i3, and a host of other acronyms, the one we all love to hate is still going strong. So are its infamous supplemental educational services (i.e., free tutoring), required when a school has been failing for three or more years in a row. While most of the policy world has conceded this provision to be unworkable, the federal dollars keep flowing. Take Texas, for instance, which spent $67 million of its Title I funds on SES last year, but where quality control is virtually non-existent. To wit, there are more than 200 providers on the state-approved list—but none has ever been removed, even after a Texas Education Agency (TEA) assessment discovered that more than a few were doing little to boost student achievement. Moreover, many districts suspect that the tutors are charging for more students than are actually enrolled. An HISD phone-a-thon to parents of alleged SES recipients yielded families that had never even heard of the SES in which their children were enrolled according to SES providers’ respective invoices. Furthermore, these companies are employing all sorts of sketchy, and sometimes illegal, schemes to recruit students, from promising free laptops or cell phones, to paying enrollees to recruit friends. Yet districts can do little to curb such practices—besides file a formal complaint with TEA, which may or may not do any good. What a depressing reminder: While Congress dallies, NCLB keeps chugging along. Its reauthorization—and overhaul—can’t come soon enough.

Schools paying for tutors with mixed track record,” by Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle, August 9, 2010

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