Hickok's Misplaced Outrage

K-12 Testing
President George W. Bush's former deputy secretary of education, Eugene W. Hickok, recently charged in the Washington Post that public schools are deliberately denying students' access to No Child Left Behind's tutoring provision. Hickok quotes Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who says "the people in charge of the schools, who, in far too many cases, think that the money set aside for free tutoring is money that ought to stay with their schools and districts instead -- that it's their money to manage as they see fit. And so they come up with ways to make access to the services difficult for parents."


In high dudgeon, Hickok adds, "Too many children in this country are failing to get the education they need and deserve. What a tragedy it would be if, years from now, we learned that those responsible for providing that education to our children were the very ones responsible for their not getting it."


Spellings and Hickok are correct to "follow the money," but once you do that Hickok's moral outrage rebounds onto himself. Having left public service, Hickok now works for Dutko Worldwide, a lobbying firm whose clients include companies that provide private tutoring services for public money. In other words, if public schools would just get out of the way, Hickok and his clients would have a clear shot at a pot of public funds that is estimated at $2 billion a year.


As Jim Horn, assistant professor at Monmouth University, wrote in the blog, Schools Matter, "What Hickok does not say is that the tutoring mandate, just like the school transfer mandate, are [sic] to be funded by existing Title 1 money that, heretofore, has been used to fund programs, supplies, materials, personnel, etc. What the poorest of schools are being faced with, then, are choices of whether to cut existing programs for children to give money to tutoring corporations who offer their entirely-unaccountable and untested services at four times the cost of non-profit tutoring services."


In other words, rather than use funds to improve schools, such as through stronger professional development for educators, funds are directed toward enabling a few children to move or receive tutoring.


What does this tutoring look like from a classroom teacher's perspective? Peter Campbell, Missouri coordinator for the FairTest-sponsored Assessment Reform Network, said he spoke to a special education teacher who used to teach in St. Louis and whose school was in Year 3 of AYP sanctions under NCLB. "Sylvan Learning -- a for-profit educational tutoring company -- had been selected to serve her school," said Campbell. "Having seen the flashy, well-produced commercials on TV, this teacher believed that Sylvan was a great company. So she strongly urged the parents of the children she taught to sign up for this "free" tutoring service. However, upon actually watching the Sylvan teachers in action, she realized she was wrong. She was appalled by their lack of knowledge, their lack of skill, and their lack of professionalism.


"She told me," Campbell said, "'I told those parents to take my babies to this tutoring service. I told them how great it was going to be and how much it would help. But as it turned out, I looked like a fool. All these people are looking to do is make a buck off poor kids.'"


There is no accountability for tutoring providers, but there is money for them and their PR shills. Where's your moral outrage over that, Mr. Hickok?