Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students in low-performing schools are entitled to free tutoring. But a majority of students who are eligible are not receiving the services. In Maryland, only about 25 percent of eligible students were enrolled in tutoring programs last year, but that's double the national average. Nonetheless, Maryland can - and should - do better.
The law allows students from low-income families who are stuck in schools that have not performed well for at least three years to either transfer to another school or receive tutoring from private or nonprofit vendors courtesy of the federal government. Because finding a better local school is often a difficult challenge, about 10 times as many students choose tutoring over transfers. Yet of an estimated 2 million public school students across the country who were eligible for free tutoring in the 2003-2004 school year, only 226,000 received it.
While Maryland's 25 percent participation rate represents progress, state education officials still want to close the tutoring gap. Unlike in some other jurisdictions, the problem here is not so much inadequate funding - none of the six districts in the state that have persistently poorly performing schools under NCLB has used its full allotment of federal funds for the special tutoring services - as it is marketing the tutoring services in ways that parents and students find to be in their best interest. Also, in Prince George's County and Baltimore, which have the vast majority of the nearly 80 low-performing schools in the state, many students sign up for tutoring but do not complete the program.
Extra tutoring help is something that more-affluent parents routinely provide when their children have difficulty mastering subjects. Low-income families need to be convinced that tutoring is like a necessary coaching tool for a player in a slump - and that the player needs to show up for the treatment.