I think it is safe to say that most educated people understand that student achievement scores have been, and continue to be, manipulated for political ends. I suspect the truth lies somewhere between genuine concern for improving public education and an insidious desire to destroy public education. On that issue, I will leave you to decide. I would, however, like to give you an insider’s view of a state supported scheme to shift our tax dollars to private companies at the expense of our students.
Here’s how the scheme works. The State of New York, following federal No Child Left Behind mandates, creates a system whereby one hundred percent of students need to be deemed proficient by 2014. The system sets annual performance targets for selected sub-groups (e.g., economically disadvantaged, special education, and different ethnic groups). For a hundred different reasons, not the least of which is that children come to us in very different forms, many schools start to fall short of performance targets for certain subgroups.
In 2009, a data error put one of our subgroups on the list of not making a performance target. You know what happened after we pointed out that it was a data entry error involving two students? New York State gave us thousands of tax dollars to support an improvement plan that did not need to be created in the first place. And, if that wasn’t worrisome enough, we were required to spend a significant portion of those funds on Supplemental Education Services (SES). This is a fancy way of saying that we needed to contract with an approved tutoring agency to provide before or after school support.
Tutoring, like any other educational support, can vary widely in terms of quality. It boggles the mind that we would pay a markup to any company when it has not demonstrated that there is a quantifiable difference in instructional quality between their services in a small group format and a school district’s services in a similar format. Interestingly enough, many of these companies will turn around and employ the school’s own teachers to serve as tutors while they reap the financial rewards. For example, a teacher may earn fifty dollars an hour while the tutoring company may charge three hundred dollars an hour for a six student group. This represents a two hundred and fifty dollar profit per hour. Another strikingly absurd aspect of this system is that it is not necessarily the students who are identified as low-performing that receive the support.
We should be outraged at such asinine New York State mandates. We are shifting tax dollars directly into the pockets of private companies at the expense of our students. In the abovementioned example, school districts can provide a six-fold increase in the amount of tutoring if we remove the mandated middleman. And, I would argue that the quality of the instruction would be as good if not better.