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.

"Students in schools not making progress should be able to access educational services, tutoring, Saturday school, so that they can get the kind of education they deserve in spite of the fact that the school they are enrolled in is not providing that education," said Education Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok. "I think it's the first time the federal law has spoken directly to parents and kids."

He discounted complaints that the federal money will not cover the costs. Title 1 appropriations have jumped more than 25 percent in the past two years, amounting to $10.4 billion for this year.

Some state and local educators applaud the intent of the tutoring provision, saying it is important to provide poor youngsters with opportunities that better-advantaged students have.

"Now we are providing that option to many parents who don't have the means to do it," said Sarah Hall, director of Title 1 programs in the Maryland Department of Education.

Yet others say they are concerned that the mandate might not provide the desired results. While some tutoring services are well known -- such as Sylvan Learning Systems, which works with many school systems across the country -- others have short track records, and it will not be easy to coordinate their efforts with a school's curriculum.

"It's still not clear completely what students will actually be getting until this program has been in operation for some time," Kairott, of California, said.

Students are deemed eligible for tutoring services through a complicated formula. Under No Child Left Behind, each state must assess which schools are in need of improvement, set content and performance standards and decide what constitutes adequate progress toward improving student performance each year.

The law's tutoring provision kicks in after a school has not made adequate annual progress for three years.

Some states are further along than others in labeling their schools, and each uses different criteria. Florida, for example, says it has no schools with students eligible for supplemental services; Texas says it has two; California calculates that it has 993.

Maryland identified 74 schools with a total of about 29,000 children who qualify for tutoring, state education officials said. The bulk of the schools, 63, are in Baltimore, with nine in Prince George's County and one each in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

No schools have been identified as failing in Northern Virginia. In the District, 15 schools have been identified as needing improvement, said the school system's Title 1 coordinator, Dawn Richardson.

For Hinman, an educator for more than 30 years, the new law has changed the contours of her job. She used to spend half of her time as principal of Highland Acres Elementary School in Bismarck and the other half as Title 1 coordinator. Now, Title 1 and its reforms are consuming much more of her time.

She said that it is important for school systems to comply with No Child Left Behind, though she has doubts about the law -- even its name.

"Years before this, nobody was deliberately trying to leave any child behind," she said. "The impression that we have now discovered something new is wrong."

Joyce Hinman, principal of Highland Acres Elementary School in Bismarck, N.D., also oversees implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law in the Bismarck school system.