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What Else Could We Do With $800 Million?

Tutor students after class?
No! says every lad and lass
Yes! replies the ruling class
But will it help the children pass?

My colleague Steve Ross, writing in yesterday's guest blog on Sputnik, refers to the noble intentions and disappointing outcomes of Supplemental Educational Services (SES). I wanted to add some additional perspectives on what we can learn from the many SES evaluations and their larger meaning for policy.

Ross notes that most would raise participating students from the 25th to the 28th percentile, and a recent review of SES evaluations from Old Dominion University suggests the effect is even smaller. It is important to be clear that even this effect applies only to the students who were actually tutored, roughly 10-20 percent of students in most cases. So the effects of SES on the whole school were even smaller. It is entirely appropriate to focus on the students in greatest need, but SES could never have improved the achievement of entire schools to a substantial degree.

The lesson of SES is not "don't do after-school tutoring." I'm sure all of the SES providers had the best of intentions, and many of their models would succeed in rigorous evaluations if given the chance. Instead, the lesson for policy is, "focus on approaches that are proven and scalable." At an annual cost of $800 million, SES has been using Title I funds that could have been supporting research-proven models in the school itself, rather than adding additional, hard-to-coordinate services after school. Rather than attempting to micromanage tens of thousands of Title I schools, the federal government's responsibility is to help find out what works and then let struggling schools choose among effective options.

For $800 million, for example, more than 11,000 elementary schools could have chosen and implemented one of several proven, whole-school reform models. Proven cooperative learning models could have been implemented by 40,000 elementary and secondary schools. If they felt tutoring was what they needed, schools could have provided proven one-to-one or small-group phonics-focused tutoring to a far larger number of struggling readers using teachers or paraprofessionals already on the school staff during the school day, which would have been much more likely to be integrated with the rest of students' instruction.

The ESEA renewal still has many steps to go through, and if there is any further consideration of continuing SES, I hope that available research and evidence is part of that conversation.

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