Accountability has been the watchword for most industries and government agencies for many years. Now it finally has come to companies that tutor public school students. Next year, according to a bill signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, all 258 state-approved tutoring firms must be graded on a scale of A through F. These companies, such as Sylvan, offer tutoring through a mandate in the federal No Child Left Behind Act requiring low-scoring children in high-poverty schools to have access to free, private tutoring. Strict accountability for an industry that earns tens of millions of dollars each year from taxes to tutor more than 533,000 Florida students is long overdue.
Until now, the companies have operated without having to demonstrate their effectiveness. But Republican state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who sponsored the bill, and other skeptics, such as Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union, are justified in wanting to know if the companies are helping students' classroom performance improve as required by NCLB.
The major problem now is devising a fair way to grade the tutoring companies. What criteria should be used? Some want the single measure to be Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores for students who have been tutored. Others, such as Steve Pines, executive director of the Education Industry Association, prefer multiple measures that might include FCAT scores, considerations of student improvement and parent surveys.
Although the state law does not mention sanctions, No Child requires that states stop using companies that fail to show they helped students two years in a row. Officials say the grading scale for providers is a work in progress, and they are willing to listen to all sides. Because school districts are held accountable for the progress of their low-performing students, schools and families need a way to determine the quality of the tutoring services.