The Implementation and Effectiveness of Supplemental Educational Services
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The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, created Title I federal funding to help provide all students with an equal opportunity to receive the highest-quality education possible. Providing tutoring for struggling students is one of many possible uses of Title I funds. Other uses include teacher professional development, computer labs, instructional materials, teacher assistants, and more.
ESEA was renamed the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, when it was reauthorized in 2002. NCLB aimed to close the achievement gap in public education. It requires public schools that have not made adequate yearly progress on test
scores for at least two consecutive years to offer parents of children in low-income families the opportunity to receive extra academic assistance, otherwise known as supplemental educational services, or SES. SES consists primarily of tutoring offered outside the regular school-day hours. Consistent with the intent of the law to promote accountability, flexibility, and choice, SES is implemented at the local level and draws largely on the private sector to offer eligible students a range of choices for free tutoring outside of regular school hours.
No new federal monies were allocated to support the delivery or management of SES. The law lays out criteria and guidelines for state and local educational agencies in approving SES providers, arranging for their services, and managing contracts and financial systems. School districts with eligible schools are obligated to set aside 20 percent of their Title I funding for SES and to measure provider effectiveness in increasing student achievement.1
In arranging for SES, state and local educational agencies are able to draw on a fairly well-established market of after-school tutoring programs. As SES expanded tutoring opportunities for low-income students a substantial number of diverse organizations entered the market to compete for available SES funds. They advertise widely varying hourly rates, tutor qualifications, tutoring session length, instructional strategies, and curriculums.2
The flux in the SES vendor market is considerable. Many smaller organizations enter and leave after attracting few students, while others have rapidly expanded their share of students served. Some school districts have also operated their own SES programs, though as this is conditional on the district making adequate yearly progress, district roles as providers also come and go. The substantial year-to-year fluctuations complicate state and local educational agency efforts to comply with NCLB requirements in identifying organizations that provide services consistent with state and local instructional programs and withdrawing approval from providers that fail to increase student academic achievement for two years.3
In theory, parents and students should be holding SES vendors accountable through their choices of providers. They ostensibly use information distributed by school districts and SES providers to identify the best provider to meet the
children’s needs. Students who become aware of their eligibility may choose to register for SES with a specific SES provider, and SES providers invoice the school district for the number of hours SES students attend, up to a maximum
per-student dollar allocation.
The more effective providers would increase their share of students attending SES over time if the program worked as the law intended. The service agreement between a district and its SES providers is, effectively, a cost-reimbursement contract, however, with no performance contingencies. In addition, only state educational agencies, not districts, have authority to approve SES providers and establish program criteria, such as an acceptable student/tutor ratio for providers to meet.
The fact that SES takes place outside of the regular school classroom and that instructional practices are known to vary significantly—not only between providers, but also within the same provider depending on the setting and specific tutor—further challenges state and local agency efforts to acquire knowledge of SES content and effectiveness.
Patricia Burch and Annalee Good point out that the features of SES that are key to its effectiveness—activities and resources used in instruction, the nature of interactions between students and providers, and institutional and structural elements that influence tutoring practices—are among the least visible to states and school districts. 4 That said, after-school study and tutoring programs have long been in operation, including federally funded programs, and there is a large body of research on their implementation and effects, include studies specifically focused on SES.
In this paper, we review studies on the effects of SES on student achievement and update the evidence on what makes SES effective or why it fails. We do this by drawing on expanding district evaluation efforts and the published literature in
this area as well as our own recent and ongoing multisite, multimethod studies of the implementation and effectiveness of SES.
In particular, we address these key questions:
• Who attends SES and for how many hours?
• What are the estimated effects of SES (from our study and others), and how do they compare to those of alternative interventions?
• What is happening in an invoiced hour of SES?
• What policy changes or levers might improve SES?
We conclude with recommendations for program and policy change to make SES more effective in light of the expected reauthorization of ESEA and Title I this year.
Our basic recommendations include:
• Students participating in SES need to get more hours of higher-quality and appropriately differentiated instruction for SES to be effective.
• States and school districts need to better monitor and control service quality and delivery and take a closer look at what online providers are doing in an hour of SES instruction.
• SES resources should be directed primarily to students in lower grades, students who are English language learners or who have disabilities, and those who are most severely underperforming in school.
• School districts, SES providers and their tutors, and regular school-day teachers and parents need to better coordinate their efforts to increase the success of SES in raising student achievement and closing achievement gaps.
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