Poor scores force Moorhead schools to pay for private tutors

MOORHEAD - Federal law will require the Moorhead School District to pay private companies to tutor some students this year at Ellen Hopkins and Robert Asp elementary schools.

MOORHEAD - Federal law will require the Moorhead School District to pay private companies to tutor some students this year at Ellen Hopkins and Robert Asp elementary schools.

Because the schools didn't hit testing targets under No Child Left Behind for the third consecutive year, the district needs to cover tutoring for students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch. Parents get to pick from of a list of approved providers, which generally charge markedly more than district teachers make.

The district is holding provider fairs this week for parents whose children are eligible.

Critics of the federal requirement have questioned the use of public money for private tutors whose work and results are often subject to little scrutiny. Companies counter that they're providing the sort of intensive one-on-one coaching in reading and math that overextended teachers cannot offer.

More than 60 districts and schools in Minnesota will have to offer tutoring at their own expense this year as a penalty for not making Adequate Yearly Progress under the 2001 law. The state Department of Education approves private companies, nonprofits and faith-based groups to provide tutoring.


Districts need to set aside up to 20 percent of their federal Title I money, which funds services for underprivileged children, to foot the tutoring bill. In the case of Moorhead this year, that'll be about $193,000, including some federal stimulus money. More than 660 students, or about 40 percent at each school, are eligible.

Statewide, roughly

50 percent of schools did not make AYP this year.

Parents in Moorhead can pick from five providers, which charge between $55 and $85 an hour. The average Moorhead teacher makes $42 an hour, excluding benefits, according to the district's human resource office.

Sarah King, Moorhead's program manager for Learner Support Services, said the district plans to work closely with providers to make sure students are making gains. With parents' approval, the district will share information on individual student needs with the tutors; in turn, it will require frequent progress reports.

"We would love to have our own teachers doing the tutoring because they know the students best," King said. "If our teachers could work one-on-one with each student, we'd be making AYP."

The tutoring requirement has received flak nationwide in recent years for lax oversight. John Fitzgerald, education fellow at the progressive think tank Minnesota 2020, points to Minneapolis Public Schools research that showed no difference between test scores for students getting the tutoring and their peers. He notes less than 5 percent of schools required to provide tutoring made AYP in 2008.

"Whatever they're doing, it's not working," he said. "The results speak loudly."


The Department of Education is preparing a report on the effectiveness of these tutors at the behest of the state Legislature.

The department did not respond to a request for comment.

Laura Davis, owner of the Twin Cities-based College Nannies & Tutors, said the company's tutors - college students and some substitute teachers - receive extensive training and work closely with parents and teachers. "This tutoring is a wonderful opportunity for students to get additional school support and overcome learning struggles."

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