Monday, June 05, 2006

CPS Less Awful At SES Tutoring Than Other Districts

It is hardly a thing about which to crow, but the Chicago Public Schools are less unsuccessful at tutoring students under NCLB than other districts:

In Chicago's public schools, 230,000 students qualified to receive free tutoring this year under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Only 66,500 actually got help. Those numbers look pretty bad, but compared with other cities around the country, they're outstanding.

This is scandalous because districts such as CPS treat horribly the tutoring companies that try to reach out to students. The numbers could be much higher if the districts were not so poorly run. Here we see a fundamental flaw in NCLB: the failing districts must be relied upon to support the outside tutors, but the very inadequacies that caused the original failures also cause the tutoring efforts to fail. Chicago is an excellent example of this problem.

First, CPS spent millions of dollars on lawsuits challenging provisions of NCLB. This meant their budget for tutoring was so compromised that they had to cut the number of students to whom the tutoring companies could provide services to the point that such companies could hardly break even. The district was only able to bring this lawsuit because Chicago, like many other cities, is a one-party state filled with officials that do not suffer internal challenges against wasteful lawsuits. There are no checks against officials who use tendentious legal actions to prevent their power and income being siphoned away by private interests. (See here and here.)

Second, we have the sticky problem that CPS, alone among districts, is able to provide tutoring to the students it has failed in the first place. That makes them a competitor to the tutoring companies. I am not confident that CPS reduced their own student quotas in response to the budget problems described in the first point as they reduced the quotas for the private companies.

Third, and this is true at many districts, the logistical and bureaucratic requirements are so onerous that it is incredibly difficult to organize services for students. The effect, though perhaps not the intent, of this bureaucracy is to drive away all but the richest and most powerful tutoring companies. That means that the small scale neighborhood learning centers, which have staff solely devoted to helping students, are generally not a part of SES tutoring efforts. Instead, the only successful tutoring companies are the companies large enough to afford all the bureaucratic overhead foisted upon them by the districts. These are the companies least effective at actually helping students.

Finally, we have the problem of the administration at the schools. Often the people working on SES at the school level are quite helpful. But when they are not, it is a disaster for SES efforts. Many times the resentment the administration at a failing school feels towards the tutoring companies overpowers whatever sense of responsibility they had towards their students, and little or no SES tutoring can take place. There is no remedy for this: a principal can find ways to drive the private tutors off his or her campus without even drawing suspicion from the district.

It's a pity, because the kids who come to the classes see their test scores go up, and usually start to feel better about what school ahs to offer. Even though some parents seem incapable of getting their kids to come to class, I have no doubt that more than 29% of eligible students can be helped were the districts removed from the SES equation.

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