OUR OPINION: Tutoring programs reaching for success

A $1.7 million, state-funded, five-year tutoring partnership involving all the schools in the New Albany district and Shannon High School (in the Lee County district) provides a strong opportunity for quantifying students’ progress and measuring the effectiveness of the methods used.

New Albany, a higher-performing district, was paired with Shannon High School, which has had graduation rate weaknesses, under terms of a Mississippi Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center grant. Eighteen other districts and programs, plus partners like Shannon, will have similar undertakings across the state from this year through the 2017-2018 academic year. The grants involved competitive applications.

The program statewide totals about $28 million, with heavy emphasis on establishing effectiveness early with the largest grants during the programs’ first two years.

At Shannon High, the grant will fund after-school tutoring with transportation provided, a concern because many of the students’ parents work and cannot break away to pick them up earlier than their regular days end.
Shannon’s and New Albany’s approaches will both involve helping at-risk students and students seeking enrichment. Tutors – teachers and peers – will be paid for their work, which is an incentive for participation.

Lee County Superintendent of Schools Jimmy Weeks and Shannon High Principal Bill Rosenthal both said the measurement of results has started. The after-school transportation in Shannon is expected to start the first week in September. Rosenthal said adjustments in the route should be expected as enrollment is finalized and places of residence are determined. Drop-off points could be used, Rosenthal said.

Funding originates with the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Act. No local tax increase will be needed because of the program’s costs.

Research has found widely the best tutoring with the most effective results rises from sharp focus on strategic goals.

New Albany’s tutoring will focus exclusively on students making D and F grades. The program will be spread over 26 weeks of the academic year and include some summer tutoring and “boot camps” to prepare students for state tests, which determine student proficiency and school rankings, gauged with other factors.

One of the goals in both programs is to help students pass the proficiency tests required for high school graduation, a specific concern in Shannon, which has been designated by the state Department of Education for special attention.

Pulling together in innovative coalitions and partnerships is a practical use of scarce financial resources, and if learning and graduation rates increase everywhere the program is applied, everyone is better off.