Schools and Bureaucracy: Tutoring Bites the Dust

We had for years lamented that kids didn’t make it to after school tutoring, whether peer or teacher provided, and which many needed. Particularly our targeted at risk kids didn’t make it, certainly not of their own volition.

Finally our admin finagled some LAP (federal Learning Assistance Program) funds to start up all purpose tutoring in the library after school. Teachers were there to tutor different subjects, and peer tutors were identified and assigned to be there at the same time. Somehow, the library became a happening place regularly packed with students. Visiting happened – hey, this is high school — but also significant homework and studying went on, particularly in math. It seemed to many of us that this social scene was just what the doctor ordered, a social draw that might bring in kids that really need the inspiration, rather than just the kids already achieving who simply needed some extra help.

But several things happened. With all the kids hanging after school, there were some kids on the fringe that took advantage, and we had some security problems. More to the point, because the money that paid teachers to tutor came from LAP sources, and so were legally targeted at those with low grades and poor state testing scores, we had to show that the monies actually were used to help at risk kids. In consequence, we had to track their attendance, which was problematic, though not impossible, in the library. Moreover, there was no evidence the targeted kids were showing, anyway.

So admin unilaterally, without consultation with involved staff, transferred tutoring to a few classrooms in order to track attendance. The boom in the library meekly dropped, attendance by the LAP kids for classroom tutoring never really gathered momentum, and the program was dropped.

At least two lessons in this. First, admin didn’t take the issue to its creative staff, who might have helped further a solution. The natural flow of the students’ social energy might have been harnessed for the intended purpose. In our setting at least, administration has tended to handle decision making not unlike decisions are made above them, in isolation from the staff below in the hierarchy.

Secondly, given the way the money was set up by the federal legislation, and hence much higher in the educational hierarchy, perhaps the project was doomed. Though it is of course appropriate that there be accountability for the federal money, I wonder if the boundaries and categories stipulated in isolation from real schools and kids prevented the kind of flexibility our admin needed to solve our problem on the grass roots level. In our school district there has been an historical wariness about using LAP money, because of the bureaucratic strings attached.

At any rate, a promising start was snuffed out.

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