U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today he doesn't understand why Florida passed a law requiring districts to continue offering free tutoring to students in struggling schools.
Florida is one of 11 states that got a waiver from many of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. That means districts in the Sunshine State no longer have to put aside 20 percent of their Title I money for tutoring and school choice.
But lawmakers in Florida still think tutoring is a good idea and passed a law requiring districts to set aside 15 percent of their Title I funding for the program. The law takes effect in July.
Duncan doesn't think that was a smart move, and said so at a meeting of the Florida Council of 100, a non-profit organization comprised of business leaders in the state that advises the governor and other policy makers on key issues.
He pointed to a recent U.S. Department of Education study, which examined so-called "oversubscribed" school districts in three states, Connecticut, Ohio, and Florida. Oversubscribed districts are rare and basically are those that have schools where more students wanted tutoring services than the district could afford to help. In those cases, schools prioritize the most academically needy students. The study looked at kids who got the services, and those who just barely missed out. And it found that there wasn't a substantial difference in achievement between the students who got the tutoring and those that didn't.
"Why is Florida keeping the set-aside for tutoring that is showing little or no impact on children?" Duncan asked, according to the Associated Press. "Is it because of pressure from the industry?"
But Florida thinks continuing tutoring is the right move. In fact, Gerard Robinson, Florida's Commissioner of Education, essentially said today that the state is trying to do the best for its students and the federal government should butt out. Okay, he was more a lot tactful than that. Here's his statement.
Florida isn't the only state that's gotten flak for continuing tutoring. In their waiver feedback letters, at least three states,&mdash' Arkansas, Illinois, and South Carolina—were asked to do a better job of explaining how they would screen tutoring providers.
Florida sought a flexibility waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act last year precisely because we wanted to have the flexibility to make decisions for our students and our schools that are right for Florida. Suggesting that our state and our legislators were not acting in the best interest of Florida's children reinforces how important it is that our state be allowed to chart a course that is right for Florida.