- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Top federal education officials have released a new handbook urging state and local administrators to explain more effectively to parents that they can transfer their children among schools or access free tutoring services if their child’s school is consistently subpar.

The officials worry such parental options established in the No Child Left Behind law will be eroded as the Democratic-led Congress tries to renew the law this fall. The options will be one of several topics that promise to stir up debate as House leaders begin to advance renewal legislation, perhaps as soon as this week.

Parents of students in consistently subpar schools that fail to make the adequate yearly progress required by NCLB have the right to send their children to another public school or to free tutoring services, including tutoring by private providers or faith-based groups.

Bush administration officials want to expand these services but are worried that the services will be watered down as the law is renewed. The provisions have met some criticism since a relatively small percentage of eligible parents have taken advantage of them.

The officials compiled a guide — available on the Department of Education Web site this week — to provide school administrators strategies and tips on how to ensure more eligible parents are aware of and participate in the options.

“Thanks to No Child Left Behind, schools are now required to provide parents with the information and options they need to ensure their children receive the high-quality education they deserve,” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said last week when the handbook was made public.

The handbook, written by U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education Morgan Brown, includes a range of ideas, such as ensuring that notices to parents explain their rights in a clear, concise manner and determining the most effective method of delivering notices to eligible parents, either through a mailing, a Web site posting or sending it home with the student.

It also suggests schools make application forms more widely available, expand signup periods, coordinate public school choice under NCLB with other choice programs and coordinate busing systems to make transportation easier.

The House is expected to begin debating legislation to renew NCLB this week. A rough draft of proposed changes, crafted by education panel Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, and the panel’s top Republican, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, also of California, has been circulating for a few weeks.

In a letter to Mr. Miller earlier this month, Mrs. Spellings said she is worried that he is trying to curtail these services in his draft proposal, not strengthen them. She said she is “likewise concerned” that his draft “restricts public school choice options and does not include additional private school options for low-income students as proposed by the Administration.”

Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for Mr. Miller, said that under the draft proposal, tutoring services “would still be available (either as an option or as a requirement) to all schools deemed in need of improvement.”

“Under the Miller-McKeon discussion draft, it would be optional for priority schools and required for high-priority schools,” she said.

Miss Racusen said while there are “scattered examples” of tutoring services actually improving student performance, “on a national scale, we have little data to help determine how well tutoring is working to raise student achievement.”

She added, “Given that we spend over $2 billion each year on [supplemental educational services], Mr. Miller feels strongly that we should have comprehensive information on how well it’s working and what we could do to make it work better.”

According to the DOE, almost 50,000 students participated in the school-transfer program in the 2004-05 school year, and nearly 450,000 students accessed free tutoring that year.

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