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'Supplemental Services' : Theory vs. Practice


As a mandated provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Supplemental Education Services (SES) program was intended to be a nationwide framework for providing academic help to families who cannot afford to purchase such assistance on their own. Schools that fail to meet established levels of academic proficiency can use SES programs to help low-income students improve their performance.

In theory, such a program makes perfect sense. But in practice, it doesn't work so well, argues Jeffrey H. Cohen in this Education Week Commentary. Cohen posits that, as a result of the very nature of the funding mechanism for SES, providers and districts are motivated to work in ways counterproductive to the original intent of the program. He offers several modifications to turn the program around.


My experiences during the past 3 years as a SES provider have been frustrating at best. Being the only not-for-profit Catholic school provider in the state of NJ has added ten fold to that frustration. I agree with many of Mr. Chen's points in his article. The incentive to withhold money should be removed. It has been my experience that most districts do not start SES on time and refuse to extend into the summer therefore pocketing leftover funds. Secondly, districts should have more control but first I think they need to prove that they can exercise the control they have now more efficiently. I agree that the state should be more active in its' supervision. There are illegal activites happening in both the school districts and providers. I would like to know how a Karate School can be approved as a SES provider? Then there are many providers giving incentives to parents who sign with them. They get away with it by not calling them incentives but rather "prizes" for completeing the program. I don't call the promise of a laptop a prize. This is BIG business for any for-profit provider. They pay their tutors a lower wage per group, not per student, and take the rest. While I agree in theory with Mr. Cohen's suggestion to have 1% of provider money go to a general fund for SES adminsitration, through my dealings as a Catholic school with state and federal governments and school districts, I am doubtful that the funds would be managed correctly.

I am sorry to say that in my experiences in the past 25+ years as a public and private/Catholic school educator, any program that comes from the federal government is riddled with flaws. Sadly I believe it has to do more with the corrupt nature of people rather than the deisgn of the program. Until people can become honest and not just out for themselves, children will continue to suffer while they gain. I believe that SES can work. I know it does by the results we have with the children we service. It MUST be for children first.

My QUESTION to my district is "Where's the money?". I believe that SES should be an option for ALL students, not just those of limited means. In the broad arena, offering these or like services to ALL students will mean that those already capable of meeting expectations will have the opportunity to exceed them and who knows how far they could be able to go, when inspired and encouraged. In the arena I am most involved, it will mean extentions of the standard and accepted curriculum allowing greater options in vocational training and enrichment programs. This will mean better opportunity to inclusion and real time gainful employment which translates into independence. Independence means less reliance on services later down the line which essentially effects the big picture budget, not just the LEA. I also think, even though I'm in favor of cross-funding to accomodate needs, that trenching money will only encourage manipulation of funds to insure there is some left for that obscure 'pet progect'. (There still exists a "Good Ole Boy" practice in business.) Surplus funds whould be better earmaked for use in Art, Music, Athletic and Vocationl Programs to give those students who may not be college oriented an opportunity to gain skills for THEIR future. This, inspite of a perhaps middle class family economics. This all should be stipulated in Federal and State guidlines and funds should be matched by the private sector.

As a not-for profit SES provider it has been my experience that most of the school districts in the greater Cleveland area do not start SES till late January and some even refuse to inform parents that they are even eligible therefore pocketing the leftover funds. Even worst, the schools that are not meeting ADY have their teachers (same one who fails the student) becoming their tutors because the teacher's union is an SES provider.
I agree there are many illegal activites happening and some school districts know because several providers have informed them, they just turn away and blackball the providers who let them know that they are aware.
I would like to know how a coach/employee of a school can make it mandatory that his football team be tutored in the basement of their school by his SES agency? As one school accountability administrator said it's not what you can do to enhance our district it's who you know. This is really alarming.

The focus on Supplemental Education Services in light of our broad failure to provide Fundamental Education Services is as misguided as a starvation relief campaign to provide chocolate pudding to malnourished children. It's a shame the squabble Mr. Cohen so eloquently describes serves as a distraction from the essential conversation about how to best provide and support high-quality education for American children.
As it appears the NCLB trough to which Mr. Cohen refers will continue to overflow with slop for the foreseeable future, perhaps we could enhance the quality of the animals lined up to feed. Requiring every tutor, manager, and executive of an SES provider to meet the "highly-qualified" teacher standard, and paying providers 80% of service fees up front, reserving the final 20% to be paid only for those students who meet AYP, sets a consistent standard and provides incentive for achievement.
Unfortunately for Mr. Cohen, he would no longer be able to sit at the helm of Education Station, or it’s parent company, Capapult Learning (formerly Sylvan Learning), and would likely return to life as a political appointee or practicing attorney.
Let's then refocus and return the education debate to the experts: educators.

I am excited about entering this field to help children. I have previously been involved in school reform, improving teacher quality and curriculum. This 3rd piece is just as important and essential for a rounded out education program. I like the idea of outside providers, it is obvious teachers are failing students and so should not be allowed to provide their own SES. It appears from the responses that schools are trying their best not to comply. It should be enforced that schools comply or risk losing funds, summer school especially should be encouraged. My complaint is that the maximum amount of dollars allowed per child is not enough to provide a prolonged program of intervention that will adequately support the child's improvement. At the school I am now working we have paid Sylvan Learning a lot of money, over a long period of time, to tutor special education students. I mean years. We have not seen significant gains for all that money. How can we expect significant gains for regular ed students when we are allowed only 12 to 16 weeks of tutoring?

A partial answer to Lisa/Educational Consultant:

I don't know how long you have been working with secondary schools, but your last paragraph suggests that it may not be an extended period. In my 40 years of teaching, researching, consulting and program development for secondary ed in several states, I learned that secondary education, for many academic teachers, appears to consist of an unrelenting struggle to overcome, or at least achieve parity with, the nearly universal domination of public education by the athletic program. The best districts have some teachers who get close to parity. These teachers retain their sanity and physical health through creation of clubs, project groups and other devices to inspire students to want and attain academic success. They "survived", but I think that you want to do more than "survive". As you have discovered, athletic performance seems to be the reason that so many schools exist. The athletic physical plant and equipment expenditures of schools support this observation. How many laboratory science programs, with or without SES components, wither and die with broken down 30 year old facilities and equipment while the athletic program gets its second or third replacement of artificial turf and additional "field houses"?
The situation will NOT change. "Show Boat" athletics is too deeply ingrained in the culture. Also, your Accountability Administrator is 100% correct. If you want the best for your students, you will need to become analytical and adopt the ways of a successful politician. Yeah, it's a crying shame that this has to be the way that a trained (insert subject matter name) professional gets things done in a school. But if you want what is best for your students you will get into the "who you know" game. For starters, watch the coaches and learn how they cultivate supportive relationships with parents. If the parents are, strongly, behind what you are doing, you WILL get what you need for your students. If you have even a small background or interest in some sport that is played in your school, get involved in a support capacity. Learn how and why the athletic apparatus is so important to the school and district. At the very least, you will see many of your students relate to eachother and perform in the context of something they may want MORE THAN YOUR SUBJECT(!). At the most, you may learn the ins and outs of school politics as you see the smiles and backslaps of the camaraderie associated with athletic events as administrators, coaches, and parents focus, together, on students' performance.
After a time, you will learn the "red flags" of the who-you-know game. It may take a few years, but you will, eventually, be able to look back and compare what you have established for your students, using the fruits of your analysis, with what you would have accomplished without your growing polityical skill.

I speak only for secondary education and in an urban school district.

Most students in urban schools enter high school with skills far below grade level and spend the rest of their high school careers trying to catch up, unless they drop out first which is often the case.

We know to be true that if these students are given the opportunity to develop close, personal, and mentoring relationships with an adult in their school their chances for success heighten signficantly. There is evidence that struggling students who attend smaller schools with supportive school cultures and strong academics are likely to succeed, attend class, and not drop out of school. Family and community support are also critical to student success. Students that come to school everyday, ready to learn, who are asked by a family member, "what did you do in school today?" and "how are your grades?" and "let me see your homework," etc. are obviously far more likely to succeed. "At-risk" students that attend schools that offer extended days with A and B period classes taught by their own teachers are far more likely to succeed. Athletes who attend schools with strong sports programs, WHERE the coaches are advocates for student academic success and "mandate" that their athletes if underperforming attend after-school and Saturday school sessions, are far more likely to succeed.

We also know that effective support of students who are struggling to catch up is HARD WORK. There are not magic bullets so administrators, principals, teachers, other school staff are learning as they go. NCLB is forcing us all to learn which is a good thing.

HOWEVER, there is not way an external provider can become a part of the school culture which is critical to the success of most students. External providers quite simply DO NOT KNOW HOW to reach our most struggling students of which there are so many. IF THEY DID, they would have become principals and teachers who struggle daily with all of these issues--and it is only the daily struggle that provides the "data" needed to understand what is needed.

It is a pity that so much funding goes into these SES programs of external providers, at least for secondary and CAHSEE programs (the "hopeful" new "business.") Our schools need the money desperately to hire and develop educational professionals to do the job at hand and/or to pay for A and B period classes taught by their own teachers, and/or to develop their own after-school programs . . .

In closing, I would like to offer out that I have an MBA and worked in the corporate sector for many years before returning to teach and then become an administrator. I am not therefore "anti-any business model" that attempts to solve school problems. What I have learned, however, is that you cannot be a good administrator supporting effective instruction unless you have a sound understanding of the challenges faced daily on the front line. In the same way, I do not think it is possible for most external providers to enter an urban school, NO MATTER how good the intentions or instructional materials, and have the knowledge, experience, to be successful. (I used the word "most" to account for those exemplary individuals who can achieve against all odds.)

With my MBA in Finance under may arm each day, I marvel at what school districs and schools are asked/required to accomplish under the most cumbersome, complex funding system imaginable--and with not enough funds to provide what students need. Even with RBB and most of our district's funding given to the schools to spend, there simply is not enough.

This lone voice will not make a difference, since the multitude of voices on this subject before more have not. But if anyone is listening out there, our schools need the money that is reserved for external providers who cannot help our students. SES is a waste of money and valuable human resources (as these well meaning providers could enter credential programs and teach with intern credentials.) SES is a system is "not accountable" for its results in the ways our schools are. In the same way that citizens call for school districts to spend its money with more wisdom, I am asking that our government stop spending OUR money on SES and please give it to our schools where it belongs.

You have set up NCLB, we are all working hard to meet your requirements, we are held accountable, but quite simply not provided the funding needed to raise students 3-4, sometimes 5 grade levels in their 9th grade year which is what is needed.

If there is an external provider out there that can help bridge the gaps of our entering 9th grade students, could you please share your knowledge with us? Thank you.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

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