Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Tutoring lifts thousands of students

Editor's note: Steven Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association, responds to the Tampa Bay Times report, "No cash left behind: Tutoring for profit in Florida," Feb. 10 and 11.

The Tampa Bay Times regrettably chose to cite a handful of anecdotes and point to our sector's quite proper use of public advocacy to smear dozens of tutoring companies that have provided an educational lifeline to tens of thousands of Florida students and their families for nearly 10 years. Notably, not one parent or student was quoted on record regarding their experience with Supplemental Education Services tutoring.

On behalf of the members of the Education Industry Association, some of whom include providers of Supplemental Educational Services, I feel compelled to restore some semblance of balance to the story of how federally funded tutoring has lifted the academic skills of tens of thousands of Florida's low-income students — and why the alleged and (if true) inexcusable actions of a few should not be considered representative of all SES providers.

SES was the result of a bipartisan proposal crafted by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the scion of the Democratic Party. About five years into SES, in a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Kennedy staunchly defended the value of tutoring, recounting how it personally benefited the Kennedy family.

He then made the same civil rights argument that seemed to have been ridiculed by the Times, by saying that low-income students should have access to the same high-quality tutoring services that affluent families use every day. Kennedy's words inspired SES providers, working with school districts around the country, to redouble their efforts on behalf of those kids.

Yes, the federal No Child Left Behind law passed during President George W. Bush's administration expressly allowed education businesses to compete with one another to provide tutoring, but these businesses certainly do not dominate the SES tutoring market in Florida or elsewhere — despite the Times' consistent reference to all providers as "companies." In fact, about half of all tutoring is provided directly by public school districts, faith-based groups and nonprofit organizations.

Regarding the state's grading system of provider effectiveness, Florida has developed an approach to SES evaluation that serves as a national model, used by Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee, which includes a mix of state standardized testing, attendance, customer satisfaction surveys and provider pre/post testing. State and local education officials have given themselves every tool to ensure that tutoring organizations were delivering high-quality SES services.

With the exception of the few that allegedly gamed the system, I believe the vast majority of Florida-approved tutoring companies have served their students, their families and U.S. taxpayers honorably and ethically.

EIA does not condone criminal acts or malfeasance on the part of any SES providers, anywhere, and we would be among the first to call for strong sanctions against these organizations if the allegations reported by the Times are found to be true.

Florida (like 30 other states) adopted the EIA Code of Ethics for SES Providers, which provides industry guidance to government regulators on standards of best practice. I am encouraged that in the wake of the Times series, the Florida commissioner of education, Tony Bennett, announced new measures to expose and sanction those tutoring organizations that do not abide by the EIA code or related state regulations.

EIA makes no apologies for standing up for its tutoring company members, and on behalf of the tens of thousands of students that its members have so ably served in Florida. Access to quality educational services is a civil right that should continue to be enjoyed by students and their parents who cannot afford private tutoring like their wealthier counterparts.

Steven Pines is executive director of the Education Industry Association, a trade association that represents tutoring centers, online education providers, private schools and other education companies, in Vienna, Va.

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