Committee on Education and the Workforce
Hearings

Testimony of Elizabeth Swanson
Director, Office of After School and Community School Programs
Chicago Public Schools

Before the
US House of Representatives
Committee on Education and the Workforce

April 26, 2005

My name is Elizabeth Swanson and I am the Director of After School and Community School Programs for the Chicago Public Schools. I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the supplemental services provision in No Child Left Behind. I also want to thank you for recognizing the importance of this issue – and for your work to ensure that all students receive the high-quality supplemental educational services that they deserve.

My comments today will focus on the need for accountability in the delivery, as well as the results, of supplemental services. I will discuss in detail Chicago Public Schools’ efforts to ensure accountability for the public dollars spent on tutoring. I will also demonstrate that our belief in accountability goes far beyond the realm of supplemental services – but extends to all that we do as a district, including our programs offered in out-of-school time. As you will see, we only wish to hold supplemental service providers to the same accountability measures to which we hold ourselves.

CPS Alignment with NCLB

Chicago Public Schools believes in the spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act’s three principles:

  • Accountability for results
  • Quality options for all students
  • Highly qualified teachers for every child
  • All three principles are consistent with our own key strategies and desired system outcomes – however, this testimony will specifically focus on the first two.

    Accountability for results

    Since Mayor Daley took responsibility for the Chicago Public School system in 1995, the district has been holding schools accountable for improving student performance. CPS has closed under-performing schools, dismissed under-performing principals and has aggressively used the powers of probation to send a clear message that schools must make continuous progress.

    Now, after 10 years of strong leadership and accountability, we are seeing the results. CPS students are at all-time highs on state assessments in most subjects and grades and our improvement has outpaced the state’s. In addition, CPS is responsible for the reduction in the achievement gap in Illinois. Our local assessments tell the same story. For the first time ever, better than half of our eighth grade students are above the national average in math. And 74% of our schools demonstrated gains in the 2003-04 school year.

    Although we still have a long way to go, these results are witness to steady gains that come largely from strong accountability systems linked to standards-based instruction. Our success is truly remarkable for a school system where over 85% of the students are low income. In a country where performance has consistently been correlated to family income, this is proof positive that poor and minority children can meet high standards.

    Quality options for all students

    Expanding student learning opportunities, including the creation of new schools and the expansion of after-school programs, is one of the District’s three core strategies for becoming the premier urban school district in the nation. As a part of this strategy, CPS strongly embraces free market innovations and competition. Under the Mayor’s leadership, the school system is committed to opening 100 new schools within the next 5 years that will embody creativity and efficiency. These schools will include charter schools, contract schools, small schools and performance schools.

    CPS also places a high priority on providing quality after-school programs, particularly for underachieving students attending low-performing schools. Chicago Public Schools established the Office of After School and Community School Programs (2001), which provides the overall leadership and guidance to ensure that every CPS student has access to quality programs beyond the regular school day. The mission of our Office is to enable and support schools in offering a variety of high-quality programs that support academic instruction and enrich the development of the whole child. CPS believes that after-school activities have the potential to act as buffers against negative student outcomes, including underachievement. For children who face academic or behavior-related obstacles to success during the regular school day, the after-school hours can be a time to eliminate barriers and improve the education of the "whole child."

    Our office currently operates seven major after school initiatives (including SES), serving approximately 200,000 students (about 46% of the student population) in 548 elementary and high schools. This is well beyond what comparable large urban areas are providing during the out-of-school hours.

    As a part of this commitment to quality programs, CPS provides schools with ongoing assistance to create and sustain high-quality programming for their students. CPS has also leveraged a number of new after-school resources for the schools, which have dramatically increased the programs and services offered to students and their families. And again, we are seeing the results of our hard work. In 2003-04, 70% of community schools (schools that offer extensive after-school programming) demonstrated gains on the reading portion of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. In addition, 76% of our 21st Century Community Learning Centers demonstrated gains on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. While test scores alone do not prove success for our after-school initiatives, they do signify that our students are benefiting from these programs and academic achievement is on the rise.

    Supplemental Educational Services (SES)

    Given CPS’ commitment to choice, innovation and quality after-school programs, SES was seen as an opportunity to support and enhance the District’s vision for its students and families. During the 2004-05 school year, CPS attempted to apply its accountability system to the private supplemental services program. However, we have now been advised by the US Department of Education that it is not our role to hold these tutoring firms accountable.

    In the current regulatory environment around supplemental services, Chicago Public Schools is expected to allow outside providers into its schools, let them use a pre-approved curriculum, and pay them at rates they unilaterally establish without having any input into the program design and cost effectiveness. In addition, we must cede evaluation responsibilities to the state. Put plainly, we are being required to contract without being able to negotiate terms – and this is simply poor government, and business, practice.

    In Chicago, this unregulated environment has resulted in SES providers charging three to four times the amount of money as it takes to offer equivalent CPS after-school programs – and they use the same materials, same teachers, and same facilities as CPS. In Chicago, the supplemental educational services market is a substantial industry. CPS will devote close to $50 million to supplemental services this school year – as well as next year. We must ensure that this funding will provide high-quality services for as many students as possible – and we need the proper infrastructure and support from the state and federal government to make that happen.

    Under the US Department of Education’s current administrative guidelines, states approve SES providers and are responsible for monitoring their performance. School districts are expected to facilitate parental involvement in selecting a provider and pay for the services out of their Title I set-aside. In Illinois, the new administration at the Illinois State Board of Education, has inherited a system where SES providers were granted permission to tutor tens of thousands of students based on a cursory review of only a handful of pages of documentation. As CPS is also a provider of other after-school services, we know that the state and federal government typically require a rigorous and extensive approval process for state or federal funding, as with the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. However, such a process does not currently exist for SES. The inadequate SES approval process is further outlined in the written materials presented today, which include samples of the proposals that were approved, as well as a detailed analysis (completed by the CPS research department) of the "evidence" that was provided to validate their applications. The "evaluation" process used by the state to determine whether or not providers are effective is also included in those materials.

    CPS has been working closely with Governor Blagojevich and his new administration at the Illinois State Board of Education on these SES issues. The state recognizes the shortcomings of the current SES approval and monitoring system and they are working to improve their oversight. However, there are many different demands being placed on state departments of education and Illinois, like many, is struggling to keep up with those demands.

    Chicago Pubic Schools, on the other hand, has the capacity, the commitment and the obligation to ensure that the services provided to our students are of the highest quality. This school year we implemented an accountability system that begins at the school level. CPS employs a SES "Lead Instructor" at each SES eligible school. This individual is responsible for visiting SES classrooms, monitoring the implementation of curriculum, verifying compliance with the contract (e.g., adequate materials, student/teacher ratio, availability of tutors) and verifying student attendance. In addition, schools, parents and District administration receive individual tutoring plans and student progress reports throughout the program. District officials also perform site-visits throughout the year to monitor the overall implementation of the program. With our current accountability system, we feel that we have been able to adequately monitor SES providers – as demonstrated by our recent removal of one provider from seven of our schools. We took this action after a thorough review of the charges compiled by schools and parents, including inadequate student materials, exceeding the agreed upon student/teacher ratios, continual tutor absences and an insufficient number of substitute tutors. After extensive discussions with the provider in question and their documented failure to correct the chronic problems that were identified, they were removed as a SES provider in seven of our schools.

    The recent flurry of news reports about SES accountability (or lack thereof) brings us here today. However, CPS has been thinking about evaluation of these tutoring programs from day one. The Department of Education recently commissioned a report to advise states on how to evaluate supplemental services. CPS is currently conducting an evaluation of SES that meets all of the components recommended by the Department of Education: evaluation of student performance controlling for several variables, attendance, and parent and student satisfaction with their selected services. Our evaluation will be completed by mid-summer. However, according to the US Department of Education, CPS will be unable to use that data to hold providers accountable or to act on any of the results.

    Recommendations

    I am here to ask for your help. The Chicago Public Schools is the third largest school district in the country, serving over 430,000 students in 602 schools. We estimate that approximately 400 schools – 230,000 students – will be eligible for supplemental services next year. We have also been told that upwards of 70 SES providers will be approved to serve in our District. Again, SES is a substantial industry in Chicago and there must be a comparable accountability system.

    I respectfully ask you to consider the following:

    Allow Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to contract with SES providers as they do with other vendors. CPS carefully bids contracts in order to attain the highest quality product or service and the highest possible return on the investment. We do this with our bargaining units, our building contractors, our office supplies companies – and we evaluate the results of our investments to determine whether they are worth continuing. SES should be no exception.

    CPS was able to enroll over 80,000 students this school year – more than any other district in the nation. However, we were able to do that as half of those students were registered with the District’s program, which costs 3-4 times less than the private programs. CPS is no longer able to be a SES provider. That fact, combined with the inability to negotiate contracts, could lead to only 25,000 students receiving supplemental services next year. With over 200,000 eligible students, it seems a travesty to only serve 25,000. By allowing LEAs to negotiate contracts, you will ensure that high-quality services are offered to as many students as possible.

    Allow LEAs to evaluate SES providers and act upon the results. If a provider does not demonstrate positive impact, scores low on parent and student satisfaction surveys, experienced chronic implementation problems (e.g., lack of materials, tutors, etc), LEAs should not be obligated to offer that vendor’s services to Chicago parents. Currently we must continue to offer all services – regardless of performance – until the state removes a provider from the approved list. Allow us to provide parents a universe of proven, high quality choices.

    Chicago Public Schools’ commitment to high-quality education, and specifically after-school activities, is clear. The District has worked hard to craft and attain a broad vision for after-school and community school programs, which includes providing comprehensive programs for students in out-of-school time, and incorporates needed programs and services for parents and community members. Supplemental Educational Services can help us achieve this vision – but only if SES is done correctly – with the proper supports and accountability measures. Please help us – help our schools and students – ensure that high-quality services indeed happen.

    Thank you.