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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

In Florida, $97 million this year for No Child tutors



It's a big pot of education money that rarely gets talked about in Florida: This year, $97 million of federal Title I money is being used to pay Florida tutors required by No Child Left Behind, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Over the past three years, Florida school districts have set aside $344.1 million for those tutors and the companies behind them, the DOE says. (The agency points out that the annual figure spiked to $157.3 million in 2009-10 because of stimulus money.) As one point of comparison, the state spent $119.9 this year on school recognition funds.

We've written about the No Child tutoring mandate from time to time since 2005, and usually we get a big yawn. But with another tough budget year looming, we wonder if more people - including Florida lawmakers - should be asking: What are we getting for that money?

That's not to say private tutoring companies aren't doing a good job. Maybe they are. And there's no doubt many parents like getting tutoring for free. But how do we know if the tutors are effective? And if this is the best use of limited money? Questions like that have shadowed the program since the beginning.

Researchers are still looking for answers.

Brian Gill, senior fellow and associate researcher at Mathematica, is working on a project that will try to better determine if academic gains associated with tutoring services are actually caused by the tutors. He told the Gradebook in an email that most of the students in the study are in Florida and that it includes four Florida school districts. (He said he was not allowed to name them.)

Gill also said the study is now being reviewed at the U.S. Department of Education and probably won't be out for at least three months.

In the meantime, the Florida Department of Education is planning to rate hundreds of tutoring companies for the first time this year (but not grade them as had been proposed at one point) and post the results on the DOE web site.

This recent technical assistance paper from the department details the evaluation process, which will lead to "excellent," "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" ratings. The results are supposed to be posted by July 1.

[Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2011 11:08am]


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