Accountability Comes to the Tutoring Industry

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Some lawmakers are starting to poke their collective noses into the booming tutoring business. Awash in federal NCLB funds, after-school tutoring is a largely unregulated industry. Most would-be regulators are focusing on the glitzy gimmicks some firms are using to recruit families and well-publicized abuses such as the ones Chicago uncovered last month. Others are proposing minimum standards for the tutors who staff these programs. Children would be better served by sound assessments of the educational value of this $200 million a year business than by requirements that their tutors meet a checklist of credentials.

Most states have yet to develop even a fledgling system that would justify booting out tutoring firms for poor results. To start, state officials might want to look to a report from AEI's newly created Supplemental Educational Services Quality Center which suggests evaluating programs on the basis of three criteria: 1) effectiveness, as measured by students' test scores; 2) customer satisfaction, as measured by teachers', parents', and students' reviews; and, 3) service delivery, as measured primarily by the quality of the program's instructors, the amount of tutoring time students receive, and student attendance.

Among states, Louisiana has made the most progress so far, requiring program providers to record enrollment, daily attendance, and test scores. Louisiana's goal is to compare the test scores of students who are in tutoring programs to those who are not.

In other tutoring news, New York State has approved the United Federation of Teachers' bid to provide NCLB-funded after-school tutoring. Union President Randi Weingarten is confident that her union is up to the task, arguing that its not-for-profit status will enable it to invest more money into tutoring than private firms, and that it will even provide classes for parents.