Supplemental Scandal! Don’t Follow The Money, Follow The Power…

From NYC, via the NYT, more bad news about supplemental services (SES), the free tutoring students in low-performing schools are supposed to get under No Child Left Behind. Quick everyone to their bunker! Again lost in the back and forth about for-profits in education the issue of quality and whether these provisions make much sense from an instructional standpoint.

I’m not a big fan of SES (though I’m agnostic on the for-profit/non-profit issue) so I rise reluctantly to its defense, but someone ought to point out that, while unseemly, some this stuff is par for the course in vendor relations and not unique to SES…what makes SES different and the stakes higher is the age old problem of power relations. At the nub of many edufights is a fundamental debate about who has and who gets to wield power. In general, under SES right now the vendors and the parents have more leverage than the school districts (though because of the way the program works there are plenty of opportunities for the districts to wield influence). That power dynamic, however, more than instructional concerns or any of the rest of this is what really has noses all out of joint about SES.

One interesting note is that the districts can wield more power under SES than under a real public school choice system. Consequently, proposals to make SES the primary remedy rather than public school choice for students in low-performing schools will be an issue during No Child Left Behind’s reauthorization. Be careful what you wish for.

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