Behind the New Law

Cost, Tutor Shortage Hinder 'No Child' Efforts

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By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 10, 2002

One in a series of occasional articles on the people affected by the No Child Left Behind law.

To President Bush, it seemed simple: Poor students in chronically low-performing schools need extra academic help, and they should get it right away. So the idea was written into the new federal education law, and public schools were ordered to arrange private tutoring services for these students -- pronto.

But the people on the front lines, school administrators from coast to coast, learned swiftly that simple ideas are not always easy to put into practice. The process can be downright confounding, said Joyce Hinman, who oversees implementation of the No Child Left Behind law in the Bismarck, N.D., school system.

Finding tutors to help students in math, reading and language arts is time-consuming and difficult; in North Dakota, not enough tutoring companies were available when state officials went looking. Of two approved, one is an Internet company based in New York, and Hinman found, to her distress, that it would not tutor elementary-age children -- the only students eligible in Bismarck.

Identifying eligible students -- those who live in poverty and attend persistently troubled schools -- isn't a cakewalk either. In Baltimore, where administrator Mary Yakimowski is grappling with the law, the high student-mobility rate makes it difficult to determine the number of kids who live in poverty and attend troubled schools. California is "crunching the numbers," said Donald Kairott, coordinator of the state's No Child Left Behind program.

Complicating matters is cost. Though the federal government said it would pay for the tutoring, many educators say that contribution will not be enough. In Bismarck, for example, Hinman said officials might have to cut back on reading specialists to pay for tutors.

Throw into this mix the time given to complete the task -- the law took effect July 1, and the tutoring was supposed to start in September -- as well as the minimal guidance that school officials say they have received from the U.S. Education Department on how to proceed.

It is no wonder, administrators say, that school systems are struggling to comply.

"Here's an analogy of what it's been like," said Yakimowski, the research, evaluations and accountability officer Baltimore's school system. "Let's say you are building a house, and all the materials are there. You have the lumber, the windows have arrived and the wiring, too. You know the materials are there to build a nice three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath house, but what you haven't received are the blueprints. You don't know where anything is supposed to go."

The tutoring requirement of the 1,100-page No Child Left Behind law, known as the "supplemental services" provision, illustrates the challenges that public school administrators face as they implement the changes mandated by the Bush administration and Congress.

The law is meant to improve schools that receive money from Title 1 of the federal education act, which attempts to offset the effects of poverty on children's educational opportunities.

U.S. Education Department officials say the changes are vital because the country's public schools have failed millions of minority students. They say grumbling administrators are missing the point of the legislation.


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© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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