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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

U.S. education secretary criticizes legislators for tutoring mandate

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan came down hard on the Florida Legislature for using federal No Child Left Behind funds to steer money to questionable tutoring programs throughout the state.

Florida lawmakers passed a law that requires school districts to spend 15 percent of their Title I funds -- intended for low income students -- on tutoring programs for students without determining whether the programs work.

Speaking to the Florida Council of 100, a business advocacy group, at the organizatipn's quarterly meeting in Washington, D.C., Duncan said this practice has spawned a cottage industry of tutoring companies despite research that shows mandated tutoring has no impact on student performance.

"There has never been accountability for results," Duncan said. "Districts don't know if individual companies are actually having an impact on student achievement."

Under the law, the districts must send money to one of a handful of state-approved tutoring programs.

"I find it ironic that Washington is offering flexibility but Tallahassee is taking it away," Duncan said.

Florida Education Commission Gerard Robinson, who is under fire for the botched scoring of of FCAT writing scores, responded quickly in defense of the legislature.

"Florida sought a flexibility waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act last year precisely because we wanted to have the flexibility to make decisions for our students and our schools that are right for Florida,'' he said in a statement. "Suggesting that our state and our legislators were not acting in the best interest of Florida’s children reinforces how important it is that our state be allowed to chart a course that is right for Florida."

Here's the AP report on Duncan's speech:

By Christine Armario

The Associated Press

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan questioned Thursday why the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring districts to continue tutoring services that have not proven effective

Florida was one of nearly a dozen states that received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law earlier this year. That waiver included lifting a requirement for the state to set aside 20 percent of Title I funds for special tutoring services.

In remarks in Washington before the Florida Council of 100, a nonprofit organization, Duncan noted a new study showing the mandated tutoring had no impact on student performance. He said a cottage industry of tutoring companies has emerged around the mandate.

"But there has never been accountability for results," Duncan said. "Districts don't know if individual companies are actually having an impact on student achievement."

The Florida Legislature passed a law that will take effect in July requiring 15 percent of Title I funds be used for supplemental education services in the upcoming school year. Title I funds are provided to schools with large numbers of low-income students, and the tutoring program is designed to offer extra help to students at schools deemed in need of improvement.

As part of the Florida law, districts must contract with state Department of Education approved tutoring providers. 

"I find it ironic that Washington is offering flexibility but Tallahassee is taking it away," Duncan said.

A U.S. Department of Education study released in early May analyzed results from No Child Left Behind tutoring programs in six districts in Connecticut, Ohio and Florida. It found that for students in grades three through eight, there was "no statistically significant impact" on performance in reading or math.

"Why is Florida keeping the set-aside for tutoring that is showing little or no impact on children?" Duncan asked. "Is it because of pressure from the industry?"

Duncan said the Department of Education believes decisions on how to intervene at low performing schools should be made locally, not through a "one size fits all" solution. He said it would be better for districts to be able to decide on their own whether options like extending the school day or adding instructional opportunities are the best solution.

Here's Robinson's full statement:

"Currently, more than 74,000 students in Florida who attend Title I schools have an opportunity to participate in Supplemental Educational Services (SES) and get the extra help they need to be successful in school.  Because of our diverse population, Florida offers parents and students the choice to participate in after-school programs within the school district or through private service providers. 

"In this year’s legislative session, Florida legislators dedicated an amount equal to 15 percent of Title I, Part A funds available to schools for SES in the 2012-2013 school year.

"Florida sought a flexibility waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act last year precisely because we wanted to have the flexibility to make decisions for our students and our schools that are right for Florida. Suggesting that our state and our legislators were not acting in the best interest of Florida’s children reinforces how important it is that our state be allowed to chart a course that is right for Florida."

[Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 2:23pm]

    

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