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Getting Students Extra Help

By Alexander Russo

More than 50 percent of the eligible kids in Indianapolis public schools signed up for NCLB-required tutoring last year, a whopping number achieved through extensive outreach to parents and tutoring providers, as well as an open enrollment process.

Unfortunately, the success in Indianapolis is probably more the exception than the rule. For five years now, NCLB has required schools to inform parents about free after-school tutoring. Most have complied by sending letters home with kids and giving parents a few weeks to respond at the start of the year. When this process fails, administrators say parents aren’t interested, and parents say they didn’t even know about the program. Nationally, fewer than 20 percent of eligible students participate.

But a handful of districts like Indianapolis have shown that it’s possible to get parents to sign up in droves, resulting in a participation rate nearly three times the national average. Other standouts include New York City, Chicago, and Newport News, Virginia.

Districts like these hold tutoring fairs, provide counselors and hot lines, extend the sign-up window, and offer more on-site tutoring.

The trick, say those who have been charged with implementing these programs, is to provide just the right amount of information and choices of providers at just the right time. Too much information—or too many options—and parents get overwhelmed. Too little information—or too few options—and parents don’t sign up. Send it out too early, and no one is engaged.

Indianapolis worked with roughly 20 providers last year, and it got results largely without financial incentives for attending or signing up.

Not everyone is doing so well. In some Houston-area districts, only three percent of eligible parents have enrolled their children. In Colorado, where sign-up rates hover around 11 percent, state officials are convening a panel to try to figure out how to get parents involved.

What administrators will probably learn is what successful districts like Indianapolis already have: Offer multiple entry points and be a little patient. When parents see their child’s first report card of the year, that’s when they think about boosting those grades.

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