During the 2007-2008 school year, while more than two million dollars for tutoring services sat unused, thousands of students in the Minneapolis Public Schools District (MPS) were below grade level. While 9,924 students were eligible for federally-funded tutoring services during that same school year, only 1,324 were actually enrolled to receive services.
And, while the achievement gap remained constant, there was nothing in place to monitor whether or not a particular tutoring service was in fact helping students to improve their grades.
In two weeks, the MSR examines a pilot program that partners the district and the community to ensure that students will get the services they need for which federal funds are currently available.
Each year, as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, Title I money has been allocated to school districts — mainly based on family incomes — to support the educational needs of students outside of the typical school day.
Supplementary Education Services (SES) are individual tutoring services — a proven means of reducing the achievement gap between White and Black students — offered by private or nonprofit venders, just one of the services supported through Title I dollars.
Over the past year, the use of Title I funds became a subject of controversy when concerned community members like Al Flowers and Ralph Crowder starting organizing public discussions about whether schools within the MPS district were funneling funds toward the kids they were intended for. The district’s stand was that they had no say over who received SES funds; their only responsibility was to send a list of SES providers to families eligible for services.
Flowers says that this way of offering services has been ineffective: “As parents, we don’t read all the papers that [are] coming in,” he explained. “We’re working, too. [Many parents] don’t realize that this is a free service, [so] how would you say, ‘My kids need that.’”
Though only a small percentage of eligible families responded to the SES provider list, the only follow-up that was done by the district was to compare the names of students eligible for services to the bills received from SES providers for tutoring services rendered. At that point, the district would disburse funds to the providers.
For those families that did not respond — over 86 percent of those eligible in 2007-08 — there was no follow up at all.
Since Supplementary Education Services are monitored by the state, Flowers says, “My theory is that [since] the district didn’t have to monitor it — they just had to pay the funds out — I don’t think they had the incentive [to deplete available SES funds].”
Daniel Loewenson had previously worked for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) in human resources until he began working with Superintendent Bill Green, interacting with community members including Flowers and many others who were attending school board meetings and offering strategies for eliminating the achievement gap.
Loewenson explains, “Al was one of the more vocal folks that would come to board meetings…and say, ‘We understand that you didn’t raise our kids, and that you should not be raising our kids, but you should be educating our kids, and so we have to do it together.’”
As a part of those discussions, not only did community members question the effectiveness of the district matching students with services, but also the effectiveness of the services themselves after observing SES providers who were unable to retain students.
Interest in how kids were fairing received a boost due to a culmination of many issues. For instance, starting in 2009, students in 11th grade will have to pass a state graduation test in order to receive a high school diploma. Because of achievement gap statistics, the district, parents and community members were aware that many kids would not be successful in passing the test without help.
At the same time, the list of schools on the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) “needs improvement” list has been growing each year, to the point that schools from many Minnesota school districts were concerned about student performance.
In response to these issues, a group of community members in Minneapolis proposed an “African American Covenant” between the district and the community looking at ways to partner for the benefit of the students. Community members also wanted to know how they could bridge the gap between kids who needed help and SES providers who were underutilized. But there were challenges.
“Community people can’t come into a classroom and teach science, they can’t teach math, but they can volunteer [to] tutor,” Loewenson says.
The challenge for SES providers, Flowers says, is that “They can’t solicit in the schools — even if [they] have a good program.” If, however, an SES program provider is not up to par, “They [the State Board of Education] give you three years to do a good program, and if you don’t do it on the third year, you get kicked out. Three years is too long to wait to see if you’re good or not,” said Flowers.
While SES providers were having difficulties retaining students, Loewenson says, “There are folks from the North Side that…find small places to tutor 10-15 kids in the evening….quietly working with kids and families. But…on the Southside, there weren’t that many.”
Who monitors SES providers? Loewenson says with only two people on the district staff working with SES providers, they have “not been able to visit these places on a weekly basis or on any kind of regular basis.” So, members of the group meeting with the school board starting asking why they couldn’t become SES providers themselves in hope of offering more effective services.
In order to become an SES provider, Loewenson says, “You have to first start with the State.” A private or nonprofit vender applies to the State of Minnesota Board of Education to become an SES provider for the following school year.
But, when community members and organizations like the Urban League went to find out how to apply to be SES providers, they found that they had missed the application deadline in the spring. The group’s Plan B was to work with community agencies like Hospitality House — one of the only SES providers administered by African Americans on the North Side — to expand their current capacity.
Flowers believes that, through working together, the district began to realize the obstacles faced by families and the community in accessing SES. And, although he believes that by working together the Title I resources have a much better chance of reaching kids in need, he says this in no way excuses the district from its responsibility for how the needs of students have been ignored in the past.
“I know that the damage done to our kids in the last five years — just looking at the information I got — was horrific… But do you fight the district, or do you say, ‘Okay, let’s partner up and get these resources to our community’? [Do we] tell our community, ‘You’ve got some help here,’ which had never happened [before]?”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.