Indianapolis District Streamlines NCLB Tutoring
It's one thing for struggling schools to provide free tutoring services to low-income students under the No Child Left Behind law. Ensuring that students have the resources to take advantage of the opportunities is another matter.
To meet that challenge, Indianapolis Public Schools (www.ips.k12.in.us) has made the process of signing up for tutoring services more thorough and understandable for parents. As a result, the district's participation rate is among the highest in the nation-more than 60 percent of its 3,500 eligible students signed up for free tutoring last school year.
Carrie Reinking, supplemental educational services (SES) facilitator for the district, attributes its success to the multiple methods of communication it uses with parents.
"It's not just one notification [to parents], it's over and then you are not communicating with them anymore," says Reinking, whose district has 16 Title I schools that provide federally subsidized NCLB tutoring to low-income students.
The district publishes a brochure for parents containing descriptions of all of the state-approved tutoring providers doing business with the district, which range from nonprofit to for-profit, to community based. In the brochure is a parental request form in which a parent can choose the provider. The tutoring organizations offer different specialties-such as the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana-and different approaches (some are computer based), but most students are tutored at the school site, many in groups.
Indianapolis Public Schools holds a provider fair at the beginning of the year to allow parents to meet personally with the tutoring organizations. Those face-to-face encounters make parents feel more comfortable about choosing a provider, she says.
"It's all about putting parents in the driver's seat," she adds.
The district also walks parents through the selection process over the phone. If parents don't receive guidance, they may become so overwhelmed with options that they won't participate at all, says Reinking.
Unlike some other districts, which may restrict enrollment in a tutoring program to the first month of the school year, the Indianapolis district lets parents enroll kids at any time, she says. Open enrollment is important because many parents don't realize at the start of the year that their child needs help, and "by report card time, they might change their mind," she adds.
To prevent students from falling through the cracks, the district employs a computer system that tracks how many eligible students in a school have not signed up for free tutoring. The system can also show which of those students have not yet turned in their forms to enroll in the free or reduced-price lunch program, which guarantees eligibility for the free tutoring services.
The tutoring services are "an opportunity our kids have," Reinking says, "and we want to facilitate making that happen."
AASA Responds to NCLB Commission Report
The bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind issued the 230-page "Beyond NCLB" report in February, a blueprint of seventy-five recommendations on how Congress should revamp the federal law, and quickly drew fire from the American Association of School Administrators (www.aasa.org) for its flawed assessment of the current state and ill-advised proposed direction of the law.
The report's recommendations call for increased teacher effectiveness, more help for low-performing schools, voluntary national standards, longitudinal data systems, and an additional assessment in 12th grade to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college or work.
In its statement, AASA says it is unfortunate that "the commission chose an approach that is 'stay the course plus' and piles new requirements and new mandates on states and districts that are already overburdened with ill-advised federal directives."
Commission Co-Chair Tommy Thompson says the commission "chose to swing for the fences" with its recommendations, but what AASA says is that the commission "took their eye off the ball and struck out."
The commission's report is based on the premise that not taking bold steps to accelerate the nation's educational progress would jeopardize the future of American children and "maintain the status quo." AASA believes, however, that there is no status quo and that education has "been in a state of change for decades." It says that we only jeopardize our competitiveness not by failing to take bold steps but by forgetting about the importance of creativity, innovation and creating global citizens.
Furthermore, AASA maintains that focusing on helping children in poverty should be a priority as we approach reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, and it finds equally tragic the commission's having "chosen to ignore the needs of individual special education students and English language learners by advocating for the continuance of arbitrary caps that pay no heed to the Individual Educational Plan process, individual student needs, and school and district characteristics."
The NCLB report cites research showing that teacher quality is the "single most important factor in student success" and argues for ramping up the NCLB Highly Qualified Teacher requirement to a new Highly Qualified Effective Teacher requirement. Under this recommendation, teachers who do not demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom would be barred from teaching students most in need of help.
AASA says the federal government is an inefficient national credentialing body for our nation's teachers and that accountability needs to move away from sanctions and punishments and toward collaboration and trust. AASA does agree with the commission that more comprehensive data systems and assessments are needed.
Charter Schools to Revamp Public Schools and Close Achievement Gap
While policymakers fervently discuss often contrasting ways to renew the No Child Left Behind law, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Nelson Smith is calling for a "new schools" strategy that would use charter laws to produce new, high-quality public schools in communities that most need them.
The Alliance recently released a new policy paper, "Creating Schools Our Nation Needs," which examines the impact public charter schools can have on the U.S. education system.
Beginning on April 30, with the theme of "Closing the Gap," charter advocates, educators and parents throughout the country will cele-brate and raise awareness of the role high-performing charter schools can play in opening new doors to disadvantaged children as part of the eighth annual National Charter Schools Week.