A program that provided low-income parents with free private tutoring for their children has been quietly eliminated from most schools in New Jersey.
The so-called Supplemental Education Services, or SES, were part of the No Child Left Behind Law signed by former president George W. Bush in 2002. Under No Child Left Behind, school districts were required to allocate 20 percent of their federal Title I funds for disadvantaged children to the tutoring services.
But the program had mixed results both nationally and in New Jersey, and never reached its potential.
“It has pretty much disappeared,” said Joseph Luchese, who operates Club Z tutoring in Cape May County. At one time, his company tutored about 300 students in South Jersey. He is now down to nine students from the Lower Cape May Regional school district.
“Once the school districts got the opportunity to stop, they did,” he said.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education approved New Jersey’s request for a flexibility waiver from NCLB requirements, which included the Supplemental Education Services.
Information provided by the state Department of Education Office of Title I programs said districts may continue to offer SES or similar programs, but they are no longer required to do so, and there will be no oversight by the state. The department will continue to maintain through 2017 a list of approved SES vendors, which local districts can use, but no new vendors are being accepted.
With budgets tight, many districts converted the funds to in-house programs. Atlantic City had been approved by the state to run its own SES programs and still operates after-school tutoring. Woodbine also put the funds toward its own in-house after-school homework club, Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns said.
Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Chris Kobik said after the state got the waiver, they reviewed the tutoring program and found it worked well for some students, so they decided to keep it as an option.
“We found that where it is appropriate, and when the parents are on board, it does help the students,” Kobik said.
LCMR director of curriculum and instruction Joseph Castellucci said the tutoring is just one of several options made available to Title I students, including after-school and summer programs.
A report by The Press of Atlantic City in 2010, using data from the NJDOE, found that during the previous five-year period, fewer than 20 percent of eligible children took advantage of the tutoring. In 2008-09, the program cost about $1,318 per student, or $28 million statewide. School districts were able to keep unused funds, so they had little incentive to promote the program.
“I was struck by how quickly they gave it up,” Luchese said of district participation. “Our students were improving, and parents were disappointed.”
Providers said the program was successful, but only for students who actively participated. A major complaint statewide and nationally was that since the tutoring was free, parents lost nothing if their child did not attend. But providers were not paid if the student was absent. A 2009 survey found only 44 percent of participating students attended every session, and about 60 percent attended 80 percent of all sessions. Slightly more than half improved either their reading or math. Providers sometimes offered incentives such as gift cards to encourage attendance.
In her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” educator and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch cited SES as an example of a program not working as it was intended. She cited low participation, poor oversight and monitoring by states, and occasional abuses by tutoring companies.
James Dean, of Deans Learning Centers, which had a site in Cape May County, said they had worked with as many as 30 districts statewide but are now down to just one, in Perth Amboy, Middlesex County. Locally, the company worked with Woodbine and Wildwood.
Dean said while students may still get tutoring, it is the districts that now decide how it is provided, rather than letting parents make the choice. But, he said, one limitation of SES is that it was available only to low-income students.
“Middle-class students couldn’t get it, and not all of them can afford private tutoring,” he said. “So if schools are offering it to more students themselves, it could be a good thing for kids.”
Contact Diane D’Amico: