Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource Today

Story updated Aug. 13 to include the U.S. Department of Education’s reason for denial.

The state’s effort to give more control to local districts in choosing after-school tutors for struggling students has been denied by the U.S. Department of Education.

In a letter sent to the state Tuesday, senior advisor Ann Whalen said she declined to waive an Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, requirement to provide supplemental educational services because the state has the ability to make the changes it wants without a waiver. The requirement is part of No Child Left Behind, as the act is commonly known.

The state requested a four-year waiver to relieve districts from a requirement to spend up to 20 percent of Title I federal funds for low-income students on supplementary educational services that are largely provided by private companies off-site. California argued that its schools spent about $507 million on these services over three school years, but found little evidence of improved student academic performance.

In light of this, the State Board of Education and California Department of Education proposed that districts be allowed to develop and administer their own programs, designed and monitored by highly qualified teachers. Since these programs would likely be offered at schools, they would be more convenient for parents and would enable teachers to provide feedback on student progress, the state said. However, districts that wanted to continue contracting with outside tutors could have continued to do that, according to the proposal.

“We strongly believe decisions about how and where to provide services to students are best made at the local level,” Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Districts are in the best position to design extended-day intervention strategies to provide assistance to low-income students who are struggling academically in subjects such as English language arts, mathematics, and science.”

Torlakson said he was disappointed the federal government did not approve the state’s waiver request. But, Whalen said in her letter that schools and districts can provide tutoring services if they apply to the state. In addition, she said the state has the authority not to renew contracts for providers that fail to meet state standards or are of low quality. 

Bill Ainsworth, communications director for the state Department of Education, said Thursday that he would not comment on the denial letter, since it speaks for itself.

However, Torlakson’s prepared statement suggested that the state disagreed with the federal government’s perspective.

“California has led the way in giving districts the opportunity to make their own decisions about how best to use state and local resources to meet their local needs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this decision goes in the other direction and retains policies that significantly limit local control and decision-making, and reduce student access to high-quality extended-day instruction.”

Congress is currently considering two separate bills to reauthorize the Elementary Secondary Education Act. Neither bill would require districts to set aside 20 percent of Title 1 funds for supplemental services, Torlakson said. He also noted that the U.S. Department of Education has granted waivers to 43 states and eight large CORE districts in California.

When the state board decided to seek the waiver in May, board President Michael Kirst said he believed district-run programs would be better aligned to what’s being taught in the classroom.

At the time, several districts supported the waiver proposal. Some said students didn’t take advantage of existing programs and that some tutoring providers submitted invoices for tutoring that never took place and forged students’ signatures.

Staff writer John Fensterwald contributed to this report.

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  1. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    It pays to remember that the whole concept of after school tutoring and the industry that grew up around the concept was approved and put in place by the last State Board (SBE). Coincidentally, the SBE leadership at the time was vitally interested in putting "vulture capital" into education and had investment companies doing just that. The SBE at that time, and under that leadership, was fully committed to the whole NCLB driven "reform," pseudo-accountability, … Read More

    It pays to remember that the whole concept of after school tutoring and the industry that grew up around the concept was approved and put in place by the last State Board (SBE). Coincidentally, the SBE leadership at the time was vitally interested in putting “vulture capital” into education and had investment companies doing just that. The SBE at that time, and under that leadership, was fully committed to the whole NCLB driven “reform,” pseudo-accountability, structure at the time. If anyone thinks the oversight and accountability for these tutoring groups was lax make sure you never look at what that board did around charter schools, or brace yourselves for the gag reflex.

    That the current SBE could have done more to dismantle this tutoring debacle, but I guess one battle at a time is wise strategy.

  2. Melanie 1 year ago1 year ago

    I own a SES company and obviously I'm happy about this decision. While I agree that there are many companies who have severe quality issues and some even commit fraud, there are some of us good apples out there. I would have been okay with the Department of Ed's decision to discontinue because its all about the best interest of the students for me, but what I was concerned about was that they would be … Read More

    I own a SES company and obviously I’m happy about this decision. While I agree that there are many companies who have severe quality issues and some even commit fraud, there are some of us good apples out there. I would have been okay with the Department of Ed’s decision to discontinue because its all about the best interest of the students for me, but what I was concerned about was that they would be taking parent choice away. Many of our parents have been failed by schools or have just had a bad experience with schools. I think that schools should be able to provide the tutoring, but that parents should have a choice to pick the school or an alternate company of their choice. In reality though, it’s the fault of districts for lack of oversight. Sometimes I am seriously shocked at how little or no oversight is given in certain districts while others have great quality control and monitoring.

  3. ann 1 year ago1 year ago

    The quality of tutoring programs has been notably mixed but districts put very little effort into tracking the good and and dumping the bad. I sensed resentment that they were not able to keep the money inside the district (except for paying a district administrator to oversee the program.) Actually the lack of credible oversight is not unusual. Districts and schools are terrible about making curricular/ intervention adjustments based on outcome data … Read More

    The quality of tutoring programs has been notably mixed but districts put very little effort into tracking the good and and dumping the bad. I sensed resentment that they were not able to keep the money inside the district (except for paying a district administrator to oversee the program.) Actually the lack of credible oversight is not unusual. Districts and schools are terrible about making curricular/ intervention adjustments based on outcome data (despite the rhetoric they spill). My district had up to 20 providers a year for parents to choose from! School staff was not allowed to recommend according to the law. Many used used poorly trained, but generously compensated, staff. A few were OK. Some we never saw because they went to the homes of our students. The best I were the stand alone businesses usually set up in strip malls. As the person coordinating at the site, I alerted the DO multiple times about providers that I felt were not adequate and nothing was done. I also suggested we cut the offerings to three or four based on our own assessments. Never happened. Just another waste of taxpayer money with plenty of blame but no accountability. How about a final report on the QEIA or SIG grants. I just saw Zuckerberg is dumping more millions into Ravenswood which just blew about $8 million in SIG with no measurable progress!

    Replies

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      Ann, the effort of the ideological left is to dump money into programs based upon perceived need rather than verified outcome and SIG is the example, par excellance. What an unmitigated disaster for more than $4B spent. The USDE has been running away from the results. Ditto SES. In SFUSD, of the 9 SIG schools and after $45M spent, 3 showed considerable gains, 3 did about average and 3 did just about nothing. Considering … Read More

      Ann, the effort of the ideological left is to dump money into programs based upon perceived need rather than verified outcome and SIG is the example, par excellance. What an unmitigated disaster for more than $4B spent. The USDE has been running away from the results. Ditto SES. In SFUSD, of the 9 SIG schools and after $45M spent, 3 showed considerable gains, 3 did about average and 3 did just about nothing. Considering that all these schools already received extra money as Superintendent Zone schools, needless to say, these are disappointing results. It bears mentioning that while these schools were showered with funding, (one former city supervisor and school principal said he didn’t know what to do with all the money), the majority of district schools were cut to the bone during the Great Recession, yet the vast majority of those schools were able to maintain their test scores. Why? Because student effort is the single largest factor in student achievement and those efforts didn’t change. It should be noted that SFUSD has claimed SIG a big success but refuses to explain how so.

  4. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    The forces at the USDE that are leveraging NCLB waivers also pressed Common Core on the country by the same means. We need reporters who will start telling the truth about the large special interests in education that are in line to profit handsomely from Supplemental Education Services and Common Core and the giant economies of scale they bring to a national stage. The author of this article, Ms. Harrington, is listed as Ed Source’s … Read More

    The forces at the USDE that are leveraging NCLB waivers also pressed Common Core on the country by the same means. We need reporters who will start telling the truth about the large special interests in education that are in line to profit handsomely from Supplemental Education Services and Common Core and the giant economies of scale they bring to a national stage.

    The author of this article, Ms. Harrington, is listed as Ed Source’s newest Common Core reporter. Googling her name with CCSS revealed a piece from 11/10/13 of the Contra Cost Times:

    “ Schools in East Bay and state are switching to Common Core standards”

    Here are the first and second sentences of the article:

    “A seismic shift in education is shaking up California classrooms.”

    “Teachers are rewriting lesson plans and rethinking how they run classrooms, as part of the first-ever attempt to set nationwide standards for K-12 education.”

    Besides the fact that implementing standards is not the same as setting standards, if she’s versed in Common Core, Ms. Harrington and her o-author, Ms.Noguichi, should know that the developers named them “Common Core State Standards”, consistently disavowing and campaigning against the criticism that they are national standards. They do so because national standards violate at least four federal laws. Perhaps this was mentioned unwittingly, for if Ms. Harrington wanted to tell the truth about CCSS she certainly made no effort at explanation and leaves me thinking she must not be very knowledgeable on the subject. And in my opinion the article is unabashedly pro-Common Core. It is one more among many pro-CCSS articles that fails to ask the hard questions. Fortunately, there’s a whole alternative press that is doing so for good reason and isn’t bought out by Bill Gates.

    B and M Gate Foundation donated $3/4M to Ed Source and now appears to have another very pro-CCSS reporter on staff.

  5. Brad Huff 1 year ago1 year ago

    Indeed, some private tutoring companies have benefited financially more than the students they served gained academically. However, for the past 10 years I have volunteered my services to StudentNest.com, an online provider in mathematics. We assign one tutor to a student, and he or she gets to know the student, relate to the student, diagnose what the student's deficiencies are, and convince the student he or she can succeed in math. One independent indicator of … Read More

    Indeed, some private tutoring companies have benefited financially more than the students they served gained academically. However, for the past 10 years I have volunteered my services to StudentNest.com, an online provider in mathematics. We assign one tutor to a student, and he or she gets to know the student, relate to the student, diagnose what the student’s deficiencies are, and convince the student he or she can succeed in math. One independent indicator of the quality of our work are the ratings by San Diego USD: 9/10 or 10/10 repeatedly, and San Diego USD does not give out high ratings unless you meet high standards.

  6. Mike Smith 1 year ago1 year ago

    John: Did the government provide a reason(s) for rejecting the request for the waiver?

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 1 year ago1 year ago

      Yes, we will update the story soon with that information.

  7. Victor 1 year ago1 year ago

    Does this extend to CORE Waiver schools?

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 1 year ago1 year ago

      No, the CORE districts have received a waiver.

  8. Jack 1 year ago1 year ago

    This is a partial victory for the students of California. Torlakson is no friend of students when it comes to watching out for the most needy among them. He is a friend of the CTA, an organization that wants nothing more than funds allocated to the local level. Torlakson knows this and during his tenure has bent over backwards to support any position of the CTA, even at the detriment of children. What a guy!

    Replies

    • Parent 1 year ago1 year ago

      Agreed!

    • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

      Jack:

      Serious charges. Any examples to back them up?

  9. Janis Mara 1 year ago1 year ago

    I cover Marin County for the Marin Independent Journal. Even in wealthy Marin there are many students who could have benefited from this effort to give more control to local districts in choosing after-school tutors.

    Replies

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      It’s really unfortunate that schools (CORE excepted) couldn’t get a waiver around the giant special interests that control the after school tutoring/ SES industry and have such a poor record. This decision is all about funneling money to those private groups at the expense of students.