MIAMI — 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.
In a statement, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said the state had sought the No Child Left Behind waiver in order to make decisions 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," he said.
Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said a critical problem with the tutoring services is that there is no system in place to evaluate them.
"We really believe there needs to be some major reform," she 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 3 through 8, 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.