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Pr. George's Loses Funding, Scraps Tutoring Initiative

Poor Test Scores Disqualify County

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page C08

Maryland education officials have notified Prince George's County that it cannot use federal money to provide extra tutoring because a large number of its public schools are failing under the No Child Left Behind law.

Last month, the county school system announced it would offer after-school and Saturday instruction for low-performing students -- effectively competing against private companies for Title I federal grant money that pays for such tutoring.

State Sen. Ulysses Currie calls the local schools "the most appropriate place" for students to get tutoring. (Courtesy of Ulysses Currie)

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But in a letter this month, Prince George's schools chief Andre J. Hornsby told parents that the program had to be scrapped before it had started, saying the State Department of Education had declared the county ineligible for the federal money.

The switch has forced parents to scramble to find other tutors, many of whom work at private learning centers and do not provide school-based tutoring.

Prince George's lost its eligibility because it is likely to be among the school systems placed on a state "watch list" early this week, once officials finish reviewing student test scores used to measure compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, said Ron Peiffer, state deputy superintendent of schools.

Montgomery County, the only other Maryland school system to venture into providing federally funded in-house tutoring, has kept its eligibility, Peiffer said.

No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece of President Bush's education policy, gives parents two options if their children are enrolled in high-poverty schools that have not met academic benchmarks for three consecutive years: Their children can transfer to better-performing schools or receive free after-school tutoring, including from private companies.

In Prince George's, about 3,000 students were eligible for the tutoring, formally known as "supplemental educational services." Now, parents will have to choose from a list of state-approved providers -- many of them for-profit companies -- though the school district has encouraged elementary and middle schools to offer the in-house tutoring even without federal backing. Some PTAs are considering paying for in-school tutoring, said district spokeswoman Kelly Alexander.

"It is unfortunate," said state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's). "With the number of students we have who need tutoring, one would think that the school system would be the most appropriate place for them to receive that tutoring."

The federal policy is not intended to deny tutoring to students but rather to bar failing school systems from providing that tutoring, which in Prince George's costs about $1,700 per child annually, with federal money.

Baltimore is the only one of Maryland's 24 school systems on the watch list, having been designated for "corrective action" last year after failing for three years in a row to meet testing benchmarks.

Prince George's and any other school system added to the list this week will be labeled "in need of improvement," a designation for failing to achieve the testing benchmarks two years in a row. Peiffer declined to release further information, saying the data are under review.

As of Friday, all but three of the 25 public high schools in Prince George's had failed to meet Maryland's performance targets on reading and math tests, according to new data from the state Department of Education. State officials previously had reported, in the summer, that only nine schools had failed. At that time, not all of the results were in.

The latest number largely reflects students' poor performance on a geometry exam given to high school sophomores. Results for that exam were released in September, and local officials have spent recent weeks appealing possible inaccuracies to the state.

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