NYC Strikes Tutoring Mandate After NCLB Waiver Approval

As a result of the No Child Left Behind waiver received by New York State earlier this year, public schools that fail to meet performance targets set by the law will no longer have to provide tutoring services to their students. Still, principals who choose to continue offering it may do so — at least until the end of this school year.

NCLB mandated that each district set aside a fifth of its Title I money to fund tutoring for any student who attended a school marked “in need of improvement” or worse. The money could also be used to help students relocate to a better-performing school elsewhere in the district. For the New York City Department of Education — the largest district in the state — the earmarked funds added up to roughly $100 million a year.

The decision to discontinue mandatory tutoring services might have come as result of heavy criticisms leveled against tutoring companies under contract to the schools. Parents and school staff called them inconsistent, and suggested that if the city had the power to regulate quality, they didn’t exercise it.

The conditions of the waiver allow principals more flexibility in deciding what to do with the funding. While they still have the freedom to spend it on tutoring, they can choose to spend it in a way that’s better-targeted to students’ needs.

Districts with low-performing schools will be able to use between 5 percent and 15 percent of their federal money on various state-approved activities, including professional development for teachers. Neither the exact amount of money nor the list of which schools fall into the low-performing categories has been determined.

One of the other remnants of No Child Left Behind that’s being eliminated is the “School in Need of Improvement” label that some have called “a mark of shame.” Instead, under-performing schools will get a different label. Those ranked in the bottom 5% will be called “priority,” and the subsequent 10% will fall into the “focus” groups. The final list of “priority” and “focus” schools, based on the data from last academic year, will be available shortly.

With about 1,600 public schools, not including privately managed charter schools, more than 200 New York City schools will be labeled priority or focus. These schools will have to draft reform plans, but the city says their principals will be able to choose how to spend their federal dollars for student support services, including using the tutors they were mandated to use previously.

Karim Camara, an Assemblyman from Brooklyn, said that allowing principals full discretion over the funds is a mistake, especially since parents didn’t have any input into the decision to cut off tutoring entirely. He is now sponsoring legislation that will mandate that a certain percentage, though smaller than 20%, will continue to support tutoring. He explained that cutting off tutoring completely might damage kids from lower-income families who will be unable to pay for outside instruction themselves.