BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

We might have had some good news ...

As I've sort of alluded to here, the ClubZ! In-Home Tutoring business has been slower starting up than we had hoped. There are all sorts of good reasons for this (ads just breaking, the new Yellow Pages not coming out for another month or so yet, etc., etc.), but it's been an emotional weight on both me and The Wife. We're in the process of cranking up quite a number of (rather expensive) promotional/ad projects, but a lot of this has been with all our fingers and toes crossed for luck.

Well, in the Chicago Tribune this morning there was an article saying that the Federal govt. was trying to force the Chicago Public Schools to outsource all of their tutoring services! The schools here have been trying to hold on to those discretionary dollars every way they can, and in some cases we've been seen as competition rather than allies in their educational efforts. Needless to say, we hope that this goes through, and all of the drip-drip-drip of information on the schools in our territory we've done will bear fruit for us!

Anyway, if you have any interest in the details, I've cut-and-pasted the story behind the cut (the link to it is: here, but those roll off into the pay-to-read archives so quickly that it might not work when you click it).

Schools told to outsource tutoring

Duncan calls U.S. ruling `ludicrous'

By Stephanie Banchero
Tribune staff reporter

December 9, 2004

Tens of thousands of struggling students have been getting help this fall through a tutoring program run by Chicago Public Schools.

But the U.S. Department of Education, which funds the program, says that Chicago has failed those students for years--that's why they need tutoring--and should not be given more federal money now to try to boost performance with after-school sessions.

On Wednesday, federal officials demanded that Chicago shut down its program, according to a letter obtained by the Tribune.

The letter says Chicago must send all its students to outside tutors by mid-January or pay for the program itself.

Ten other Illinois districts, including Elgin-based U-46, Wheaton-Warrenville, Cicero, Dolton, West Harvey-Dixmoor, Oak Lawn and North Chicago, face the same sanction.

The decision could lead to a showdown over the controversial No Child Left Behind reforms, which require tutoring for low-income students at schools that perform poorly.

And it leaves the fate of tens of thousands of students up in the air, just a few months before they face high-stakes achievement tests.

Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan called the ruling "ludicrous" Wednesday, and said he has no intention of ending his federally funded tutoring program.

The stakes are clearly the highest in Chicago, where 80,000 students receive tutoring under the law. The district tutors about half of those students itself, spending more than $12 million, according to district figures. The rest use tutoring companies or outside agencies.

Duncan said there is no way the district could absorb the cost, and private tutors could not handle all the students eligible for help.

"Halfway through the school year, to deny children who most need help is staggering to me," Duncan said. "It shows how disconnected the federal bureaucrats are from the reality of teaching kids in urban areas.

"I plan to continue to serve these children and work with the feds to help them come to their senses."

The letter marks the first time the federal education agency has flexed its muscles in Illinois--and one of the few times it has anywhere in the nation--over the No Child Left Behind law, the most sweeping education reform in decades.

Agency officials had complained for two years that school districts were violating the spirit of the law by finding clever ways around another provision that allows students to transfer out of failing schools. Chicago, for example, barred entry into most of the better-performing schools, saying they were already crowded.

Eugene Hickok, U.S. undersecretary of education, warned Chicago--and hundreds of other urban districts around the country--that crowding was not an excuse to limit the transfer provision, but his agency never made much of an attempt to force changes.

U.S. Department of Education officials could not be reached for comment on the tutoring question, but in the letter, Hickok makes it clear there is no wiggle room when it comes to the tutoring provision.

He told Illinois State Board of Education officials to let him know within 30 days how they plan to make Chicago comply with the law.

Dunn's request

Hickok was responding to a request made by the state education superintendent, Randy Dunn, who had pleaded with him to relax the law for these 11 districts and allow them to tutor children after school.

A state board spokeswoman said the agency is disappointed with Hickok's response.

"We are concerned about kids, not subsections of subparts of statutes," said Rebecca Watts, spokeswoman for the state board. "Right now, we really don't know what we are going to do about this. We are going to work with the federal government and with the districts to try to resolve this issue.

"There are thousands of kids who are getting much-needed services, and we don't want to harm them in any way."

Under the federal law, schools that fail to meet test standards three years in a row are required to offer free tutoring to children. Private companies, religious institutions, schools and districts are eligible to run the tutoring programs, but the law specifically bars low-performing districts from doing so.

An entire district is identified as low performing if it fails to meet goals two years in a row. This is the first year the sanctions have applied to Illinois districts.

Low-income children in sub-par schools can choose a tutoring program from a list provided by the school district. The district must pay for that after-school academic assistance.

The battle of wills over the tutoring provision has been going on for nearly two years in Illinois.

In January 2003, the state board approved Chicago as a tutoring provider, even though it was clear it might become a problem down the road. Hickok warned then that allowing Chicago to oversee tutoring undermined the law.

"In essence, we would be saying, `Well, let's see, the school district didn't provide adequate education for students, but let's label them a supplier of tutoring services and then pay them some more money because they didn't get it right the first time,'" Hickok told the Tribune.

Fatal flaw

But Duncan and superintendents in the other districts argue that the law has a fatal flaw. Private vendors are not ready for the onslaught of students who need the academic enrichment and have been slow to respond, they argue.

Last year, thousands of Chicago students did not get the tutoring they were eligible for because the private companies had difficulty finding enough qualified tutors.

In Cicero, school officials could not find enough companies to handle the influx of bilingual students.

And in Springfield, the district could find only one company willing to help its students--and that company needed at least 48 to sign up before it would agree to come into the schools. So far, only eight Springfield students have signed up.

"You can't just snap your fingers and expect that everything will all work out just because the law demands it," says Carolyn Blackwell, who oversees federal programs in Springfield School District 186. "I guess I am not surprised that they are sticking to the letter of the law now that [President] Bush has been re-elected and says he has a mandate."

Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune

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