Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Re: Intensive Small-Group Tutoring and Counseling - NY Times Article

This is a great and effective idea, except for one major flaw:  they are paying the tutors $17,000 per year to do this job.  This is well below poverty level in most urban areas.  Why is it that a lot of "solutions" to problems in our culture mean creating new, part-time jobs at poverty level pay?

I guess I get frustrated when solutions to educational problems include having people volunteer or accept very low wages - like substitute teachers. One principal said to me once, "Oh, but don't you get $100 a day?" I said, "Yes, so the maximum amount I could get in a school year, even if I were lucky enough to get jobs EVERY DAY, would be $100 * 180 = $18,000." 

Sure, these tutors could get part time jobs during the summer or weekends - if such jobs were available. So, as soon as something better turns up, the tutor leaves and the students get a new one.  

The tutors do well.  Yes, people should not be greatly surprised that, with 2 to 1 help, plus counseling, these students do markedly better.  That is a good, even great, thing.  But, does it scale up?  I am not so sure. 

I hear repeatedly the claim that you can't just "throw money" at education.  No, you can't.  But there are effective and less effective uses of money.  Millions of dollars spent on standardized testing?  Questionable.  Millions spent on adequate staffing?  More likely.  People cost money; really good people cost a bit more.  


Addendum: The school districts I work for are also increasing the number of half day jobs that are available for subs.  Since it is often very difficult to coordinate the ending time of one half day job with the beginning of another half day job, taking into account driving times between schools, subs frequently take only one half day job.  This cuts sub pay even further.  I suppose, to be fair, it does make it easier to take another regular part time job.  If a sub has another regular part time job that starts some time in the afternoon, that sub could take only morning half day jobs.  Still, it does make transportation costs a larger issue in relation to pay.

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