TEA Tightening Rules for Tutoring Companies. But Will They Work?

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"What do you mean I can't charge DISD for tutoring a stuffed animal and a Chia Pet?"
As the district announced yesterday, and the DMN reported over the weekend (paywall), DISD is accusing five private tutoring companies of more $500,000 in fraud. That's on top of more than $140,000 the district accused two other companies of illegally taking in April after an external audit.

The companies deny wrongdoing, but let's assume for a moment that DISD wouldn't throw around fraud accusations without some cause. That's a helluva lot of money being plucked from taxpayers' wallets.

So why doesn't DISD just cut ties with the suspect companies and go on its merry way? The short answer is, it can't.

The program works like this: Private companies apply to the Texas Education Agency to be on the list of providers who can provide the outside tutoring mandated by President George W. Bush's 2001 education reform law, No Child Left Behind. Parents at low-performing schools are then allowed to pick from a list of TEA-approved tutors providing services in their area. The provider then bills the district for the number of hours worked, and the district pays.

Districts have no say in determining which companies are eligible to provide tutoring to its students. Even if the district suspects it is being bilked by a company, parents are still able to send their kids there unless the TEA removes it from the list of approved providers. That has never happened. The agency has not even had a mechanism for doing so.

TEA spokesman Suzanne Marchmen said the agency is working to make the system more accountable. All 213 approved tutors will be required to reapply by June 26 using a more thorough application that will require them to list potential conflicts of interests, any complaints against them, both in Texas and elsewhere, their methodology for measuring student achievement. Other criteria for removal are listed on the School Improvement Resource Center website, which promises that more are being developed.

"Moving forward, definitely if they're out of compliance with the requirements of their services, they will be removed from the list," Marchman said. "Prior to this type of overhaul, those type of criteria were not laid out for providers."

Marchman said TEA is creating an external review committee that will rate providers' applications using a point system, which will influence the agency's decision. Applications are self-reported, however, and it's unclear how far TEA will go to determine the accuracy of the application.

None of which would have helped DISD one iota in its cases against the seven tutoring companies it claims are guilty of fraud.

"From the agency's end of things we have a process for reviewing programmatic complaints," Marchman said. "If there's a contractual dispute between the district and a provider that has to be resolved between the two of them. Once a parent selects a company as a tutoring provider, the district enters into a contract with that company. We don't have an ability by law to intervene in that contract."

So DISD is essentially forced to contract with these companies by TEA, and TEA can't do anything if DISD gets screwed over? Seems like there should be at least some degree of local control, since the state bureaucracy seems impenetrable. Why, after all, has it taken eight years (TEA started monitoring tutoring agencies in the 2004-05 school year) to implement some sort of reform? If you're going to mandate this type of multimillion-dollar program, the effectiveness of which is already an open question, you should have something more rigorous in place to ensure accountability.

I asked Marchman about the delay.

"You know, that I don't have a real good answer for. I know part of it has just been we've gone through two reductions in our agency in the last, what has it been, seven years and we've had budget cuts. Not that it's the entire reason for it, but we're trying to do more with less."


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8 comments
The Credible Hulk
The Credible Hulk

Accountability. *chuckle* I don't believe that word is in the DISD lexicon.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

No,the BEAUTY of DISD corruption is to look stupid, when in fact, it is dumb like a fox. Not making it up. How many times can one group of people keep making mistakes, misspend money, make wrong choices, etc.... Come on....

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Governor Perry and his cronnies. Follow the money, dude.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

How much supervision was offered by these companies--and by the way, not all are bad. I won't mention names, but one is truly great at what they do...Anyway, how many times did they come by to make sure that indeed, 45 kids were learning math for 3 hours, or 32 kids were working on reading for one hour, etc....? If you have the same kids going every day---what about their other homework, their other teachers, like me? And are their stats showing that all this money went for good results? Where is the data, you know, the "research," always professed for new off-the-shelf programs we spend millions on? Please, D O, keep watching this story. We honest teachers want to see some kind of justice and reimbursement for all this wasted money.

Sanders Kaufman
Sanders Kaufman

That rule doesn't apply to our Republican administration - because they have already come out, publicly and privately, against public education. The Texas Republicans have blanketed the state, raising millions of dollars, preaching against public education.  Core to their political principals is the idea that churches and corporations should be doing the job, instead. They've lobbied heavily for kids to be pushed and pulled out of public schools, into corporate and church schools.  They've promoted a voucher system so that Republican members could take great joy in individually, defunding their local school districts. It's not an assumption that the Republicans are malicious toward public education. It's an acknowledgement of everything they've said and done on the topic.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

It is called, "edu-business," and this has been the plan along along, folks. We, who have been screaming about the plot to destroy public education--to take its tax dollars and privatize it: Here's your sign: We told you so. We told you so, we told you so, we told you so. 1. Claim the schools--all public schools, are failing. 2. Create a series of high stakes tests which prove #1. 3. Force teachers to teach to the test or lose their jobs, thereby almost guaranteeing that kids learn less. This will help guarantee #1. 4. Go back to #2--again, to reinforce #1.... 5. Pretend to "help", when the help is really a gimmick. Create a for-profit industry on test-making, then create a a secondary market on staff development for teachers to meet #2 to end #1 by having them do  #3....Dizzy yet???? Hang in there.... 6. NOW, create a third level business model of TUTORS, which supposedly will help us with #2, to end #1, by making butt-loads of money---up to $100 PER HOUR--- PER CHILD..... ---wait for it............ While some of this actual tutoring is suppsedly going on in a ------wait for it---------- Pizza joint. NO sh&t. Really. It would be almost funny, if it were not true. And where did this all come from? Well, G W Bush and his ---private business model, of course. I don't know about you, but somehow, we (over age 45) all got through school without TAKS, our teachers were not so disrespected and shafted, and taxes actually went towards education. So when local leaders talk about helping us by using the business model, wait for the tug on your wallet. When you hear business leaders and lawyers, NONE of whom have ever taught a day in their lives---yet seemingly "care" about public schools---encourage "competition" with "alternative ideas," such as charter schools----don't you see? Come on, wake up.

Guest
Guest

This was set up by GW's pals: Same ones that pushed charter schools and nation-wide testing that puts as many public dollars as possible into private pockets.

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