Saturday, July 23, 2005

No Child Left Behind, what's missing?

It's not too early for American's to be thinking of the 2005-06 school year and efforts that need to be taken to help more kids get the help they need to succeed in school and move on to the next level.

The big attention-getter in inner-city education is the No Child Left Behind law. It's causing schools to set aside money for private tutoring services to provide extra tutoring to kids attending poorly performing schools.

On the surface, this sounds great. But something's missing.

What's missing is a strategy to engage adults beyond the poverty belt in the work of raising kids and preparing them for careers.

There are more than 135,000 school age kids in Chicago who qualify for supplemental tutoring. I'm sure that other big cities have similar numbers. While the number of children receiving these services is growing, it's still far short of where it needs to be, and the quality of the tutoring is suspect in many cases.

However, I'm not here to debate the quality or usefulness of the Supplemental Tutoring Services. My point is that this is not enough.

Supplemental tutoring only focuses on academics. It does not focus on social, emotional, civic engagement, or aspirations or enrichment. It's not a vocational education program aimed to keep teens in school and headed to jobs.

Kids living in areas of high poverty come to school with far fewer learning experiences than do other kids because their families and neighborhoods don't have a wide range of people working in different jobs and careers. Instead, they have a greater number of adults who model illegal work, are ex-convicts, or on welfare. Instead of a network of adults helping kids move to legal careers, just the opposite exists in too many poverty neighborhoods.

Supplemental tutoring does not increase the diversity of adults, or of experiences, available to inner city kids. Thus, volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring programs that connect youth with volunteers from many work backgrounds, and/or connect kids with arts, technology, literacy, college & career readiness, travel, etc., all offer additional supports that cannot be provided by the neighborhood or the family. In many of these programs kids and adults stay connected for many years. This seldom happens with Supplemental Services or paid tutoring services.

If we accept the value of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, then the next concern should be the availability of such programs for kids of every age group, in every poverty neighborhood. At is a Program Locator that you can search by zip code and age group to determine if tutor/mentor programs are available in a neighborhood of Chicago. In too many cases there are few programs, or the programs that exist only serve small numbers, or are limited in scope.

There's not enough programs.

So, let's go back to the No Child Left Behind law. By only engaging a para-professional tutor to be an additional adult in the life of a child, the system is not strategically trying to expand the resources available by attracting and educating adults from beyond the poverty belt who could be a growing army of tutors/mentors, leaders and advocates. It is not creating a bridge between the workforce and diversity needs of American industry and the kids who need consistent, on-going, long-term help to get to careers.

On July 28th the Lend A Hand Program at the Chicago Bar Association ( will host a MY HERO Awards event to recognize lawyers, judges and law firms who have become involved in tutor/mentor programs. This is an example of a capacity-expanding event. As lawyers get involved with tutor/mentor programs they are beginning to work collectively to raise new, private-sector money, that can sustain existing programs and help fund new programs.

This is what's missing in the No Child Left Behind Strategy. Their is no attempt to build a bridge between non-poverty and poverty. Their is no recognition that we need to be tutoring and mentoring adults, so they do more of what they need to be doing to make sure every child born in poverty is starting a job/career by age 25. Unless we expand capacity, we don't expand or sustain services.

It's not to late to take action to change this. Anyone can become a foot-soldier to help mobilize more people to be part of tutor/mentor programs as school starts in six to eight weeks. If you'd like help, visit and join in the on-line discussion forums.

What's missing does not need to stay missing. It's up to us.

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection


SimpleKiwi said...

Good viewpoint. (Even though this is slightly unrelated) I also think that adults should have special programs. (More computer training and office skills classes would be great.)

More high schools should have these programs for children and adults alike, seeing that there is obviously a growing market in the office scene.

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Thanks for posting a comment to my blog. It's new and I'm just building visibility for it.

I agree that adults should also have special programs. In fact, I've been networking for many years with adult literacy programs, as well as leaders of alternative school networks. These groups target different age groups, or different levels of need, than the Tutor/Mentor Connection. They would benefit if someone were building a network of such programs, duplicating what we do to draw attention to k-12 tutor/mentor programs.

Since we're all in the business of trying to help clients get into jobs/careers, maybe we would have more impact on industry if there were spokespeople for these other groups working with us.