Chicago Schoolchildren Left Behind

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This story was written By's Gina Pace

Joan Lowe's children, Titus and Trounia, have been attending after-school tutoring classes on the west side of Chicago for the last two years. After the sessions with Platform Learning, a tutoring company, Lowe noticed her children's grades shot up as well as their standardized test scores.

"The tutoring program did wonders with Titus," Lowe said. "The teacher he had during the day was good but he just wasn't getting it. When he started going to Platform, his grades just shot up."

But a week ago, Titus, 11, came home from school and said he wasn't getting tutoring this year and had been placed on a wait list. His sister, Trounia, 8, however, is.

"It really makes me angry," said Lowe, who does food service work in a nursing home. "Because if he doesn't have the tutoring program, I believe his reading and math scores will go back down and I don't want that to happen at all."

Titus is one of about 17,000 poor children in low-performing Chicago schools that won't be receiving free tutoring this year required by the No Child Left Behind law.

The reason: a bureaucratic mess.

Last year, Chicago Public Schools was told it couldn't provide the tutoring services because it was a failing district and must outsource the tutoring to private companies.

The school district disputed the decision by the federal Department of Education saying they could provide the services for $380 per student. That's much cheaper than what private companies charge, as much as $1,800, said Beth Swanson, the district's director of after-school services.

The district received a waiver by the federal government last month to restart the services; but by then it was too late, Swanson said. Most parents had signed up with private companies, chewing up the federal allocation. Last year, only about half of parents who signed up chose private companies – this year three quarters of parents did.

District officials say it could have been worse. Originally, about 30,000 of the 73,000 children who signed up wouldn't receive services, but the school district kicked in an extra $5 million to enroll some of the students on the waitlist in its own district program.

"It's an absolute shame," said Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools chief. "After-school tutoring is a huge part of the reason why we've seen so much progress in our district."