States Suffer Halting Start On Tutoring
by Erik W. Robelen, Education Week, September 25, 2002
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At least five states have been operating under the
impression—mistaken, according to the Department of
Education—that none of their public schools must meet a key
requirement in the new federal education law this school year.
Many other states, meanwhile, are lagging behind schedule in
complying with the provision, which requires that students in
consistently low-performing schools have access to a choice of
tutoring services or other extra academic help.
Federal officials have said they wanted such "supplemental
educational services" to be available at the beginning of this
school year. But that ambitious target for a bill signed into
law last January has proved difficult for many states.
Under the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, each state,
working with districts, is supposed to compile annually a list
of schools that are affected, and the state must approve
supplemental-services providers. The idea is that parents may
choose from a menu of tutoring services, online providers,
faith-based organizations, or even programs provided by their
public school district. A portion of the district's federal
aid would pay the cost.
Interviews with state officials in about half the states have
found a wide range of responses to the new requirements.
Several of those states, such as Colorado and New York, have
already identified schools and drawn up lists of potential
providers. But that's far from the case across the board.
In fact, officials reached in seven state education agencies
have suggested that none of their schools must provide
supplemental services this year.
In one case—Nevada—a state official said that was because all
schools had made sufficient academic improvement. That's
considered an acceptable rationale by the federal government.
But in the other six, the reasons apparently have nothing to
do with how the schools have performed.
Officials in those states—Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri,
New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia—pointed to issues
related to their state systems of testing or accountability
and to the difficulty of adjusting those systems rapidly to
the new federal law. Officials in all but one of those states
indicated that they would likely have some schools on the list
In interviews over the past two weeks, those officials said it
was their understanding that their stance was acceptable to
the federal government.
Not so, says the Education Department, with one possible
The department, while still withholding judgment about
Virginia, indicated last week that none of the other five
states is free from requiring supplemental services in schools
based on the reasons those states have cited. The agency is
currently in discussions, or has scheduled talks, with
officials in those states to clarify the federal requirements
and ensure compliance.
In an interview, Undersecretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok
said the agency would not grant any special exceptions.
"We have told no states, nor will we tell any state, that they
can take a walk on ... accountability this year," he said.
"The law doesn't allow it; we wouldn't allow it."
Under the law, if a Title I school fails to make "adequate
yearly progress" for two consecutive years, the district must
provide public school choice and pay transportation costs. If
the school fails for yet another consecutive year to make
adequate progress, its students from low-income families are
eligible for the supplemental services.
The snag is that the new law, the most recent reauthorization
of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is meant to
apply retroactively, so that all states don't start from
scratch in identifying schools. Under the 1994 version of the
ESEA, states were already identifying schools that were
"needing improvement." Once a school did not make adequate
progress for two years, it went on the list. Schools must show
adequate progress for two years to get off the list.
Impact of State Changes
Delores M. Beck, the federal-programs coordinator for the
Missouri Department of Education, said that her state, because
of recent changes in its testing system, lacks "consistent
data" over time to determine if any schools are required to
offer supplemental services.
Ms. Beck said Missouri had reliable data going back only far
enough to identify schools for public school choice—38 this
"New Jersey took longer to roll out its standards and
assessments," said Thomas M. Rosenthal, a spokesman for that
state's education agency. "Because we're behind a year and our
process is more exhaustive ... the supplemental services such
as tutoring will occur next year."
Meanwhile, Virginia also says it has no schools that must
provide supplemental services.
Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of
Education, said the problem in his state is that, in July
2000, Virginia's accountability system was significantly
changed, including the way it identifies schools for
"The definition of a school that did not meet learning
objectives ... before 2000 is very different from the
definition that we are now using," he said. Virginia has 34
schools that must provide school choice under the No Child
Left Behind Act.
While the Department of Education last week could not say for
certain whether Virginia's plans for this year are in keeping
with the law or not, agency officials appeared somewhat
skeptical and are pursuing the matter.
"We hope Virginia will clarify why eligible schools have not
been identified," Undersecretary Hickok said.
"Everything we have done has been done with the guidance of
the Department of Education," Mr. Pyle said. "If there are
issues that have to be resolved, of course, we will resolve
Mr. Pyle and the Missouri official said they were encouraging
districts to offer supplemental services a year early where
lack of available space had limited the public-school-choice
Michael Cohen, who served as an assistant secretary of
education under President Clinton, said the law is clear when
it comes to schools previously identified.
"The No Child Left Behind Act basically has a provision that
says to states, if you change anything, grandfather the old
schools in," he said. "Don't [assume] they got better."
But some state officials say it's not easy to mesh their
systems with the federal mandates.
"This is the bumpy road of transition that we're
experiencing," said Thomas W. Murphy, a spokesman for the
Connecticut Department of Education. His state's
accountability system has been on a different track from the
federal effort, he said, and it will take time to realign.
Meanwhile, at least two other states have already reversed
course after hearing from the federal government that they
cannot take a pass on supplemental services.
Arkansas—which drew national attention with its claim this
summer that it had no low-performing schools—has since been in
talks with federal officials and will provide a list of such
schools in the next few weeks. The state's original rationale
was that it had recently switched to a new testing system,
said Janine H. Riggs, an assistant director of the Arkansas
Ms. Riggs predicted that at least some Arkansas schools would
have to provide supplemental services this year.
A 'Mixed Message'?
Illinois state Superintendent Robert E. Schiller said that in
the plan Illinois submitted to the Education Department
earlier this year describing how it would implement the No
Child Left Behind Act, the state made plain that it would not
require any schools to meet the supplemental-services
requirement until next school year.
Before receiving federal K-12 funds this past summer, each
state had to win federal approval of its plan, called a
"consolidated application." Illinois' plan was approved in
July, but Mr. Schiller said federal officials came back in
August to say Illinois could not put off the tutoring
"That's the mixed message that's troubled us," he said. The
news has disrupted planning at the state and district levels,
Mr. Schiller said, and he predicted it would be months before
students could get access to supplemental services.
Melinda Malico, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the
"form letter" approving states' plans gave clearance only to
those elements required in the federal application. Anything
else a state may have attached was neither considered nor
She said there is nothing in the application with regard to
the timeline or implementation of choice or supplemental
services. Ms. Malico added that Secretary of Education Rod
Paige has consistently sent out the message that all states
must meet the choice and supplemental-services provisions this
Even states that have been planning to make the services
available this year are not all ready to go. One reason—cited
by 11 states out of the 28 surveyed—is that they were still
waiting for test results from last spring or computing how
those results would affect the status of schools.
Secretary Paige issued a letter Aug. 16 that opened that
floodgate. In essence, he said states still waiting for those
spring results could hold off—for a certain subset of schools
meeting specific criteria—on making final judgments on which
schools must provide either school choice or supplemental
services this school year. ("Paige Allows Wiggle Room for
Late-Coming Test Scores," Sept. 4, 2002.)
Michigan and Kansas, for example, will not have a final count
of schools until October.
The totals that were available elsewhere varied widely. For
example, Georgia has reported 360 schools where students are
eligible for supplemental services, Maryland 75, and Tennessee
96. States with far fewer include Texas, with two, and North
Carolina, with three.
Compiling final lists of schools is not the only holdup. Many
states are still in the process of approving
supplemental-service providers—a brand-new realm for nearly
"States have little or no experience in approving tutoring
programs," said Edward E. Gordon, the president of
Chicago-based Imperial Consulting Corp., who has been advising
some states on the matter. "Tutoring and classroom teaching
are two different animals," he said.
States must devise a process for "quality control" that is
attuned particularly to tutoring, not schooling, he argued.
It also may not have helped matters that the Education
Department issued draft guidelines and regulations on
supplemental services only in August, although Secretary Paige
sent states a letter in June briefly outlining the
department's thinking on the subject.
Some states predict that students will be able to get access
to tutoring services later this fall. Kentucky, for instance,
will be approving providers over the next month. A state
official said the earliest that students might receive
services is October.
Others may take longer.
Indiana, where 40 schools must provide the services this year,
will likely not have a list of providers until December, said
Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, a spokeswoman for the state education
agency. Students will likely have access to the services by
the start of the second semester.
"It's just absolutely physically what was possible," Ms.
Undersecretary Hickok said he recognizes some delays may be
unavoidable. But regarding Indiana's time frame, he said:
"With all due respect, that's an awfully long time."
Several states, at least, are finding it possible to move
faster. Among those that have approved providers are
California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, New York,
Pennsylvania, and Texas.
New York has a list of 70 providers; Georgia has 146.
Of course, not all families will get that many choices. In
Georgia, more than half the providers are school districts. In
many systems, the district is listed as the only local
provider, though more than a dozen providers are identified as
"statewide." Georgia will continue to approve providers over
the course of the year.
Maryland has approved far fewer providers so far, just
two—Sylvan Learning Systems and Huntington Learning
Centers—out of the 16 that applied. The state plans to issue
another request for applicants in October to ensure more
options, and will continue to do so on a quarterly basis.
Jack Jennings, the director of the Washington- based Center on
Education Policy, suggested that in general, difficulties and
delays should not be surprising. States face a heavy burden
trying to meet a host of new federal demands, some delving
into unfamiliar terrain, said Mr. Jennings, who was a longtime
aide to the House education committee.
"This is a lot of work," he said. "Some state departments have
had severe budget cuts, and so the folks are overwhelmed, just
with ordinary work, much less with implementing a
comprehensive, demanding new law."