Our very talented and innovative principal Ted Appel (you’ll be able to read an interview with him in Public School Insights that Claus von Zastrow will post there in a couple of weeks) recently came up with another excellent idea — this one related to students getting tutors.

Our school is a recipient of a multi-year federal grant to support Small Learning Communities (we have seven SLC’s which are made up of roughly 300 students and twenty teachers each — those students pretty much stay in those groupings for their high school career). Part of that grant provides substantial funding for “tutoring.”

Ted thought, “Why not use the money to have students hire teachers of their choice as tutors and they can arrange the time (before –school, lunchtime, after-school, weekends) and location?”

As Ted explained it to me, many schools might use these kinds of funds for “tutoring centers” that don’t easily offer the flexibility that might be needed to make tutoring an attractive idea to students.

Of course, the National No Child Left Behind Act also requires all schools in Program Improvement to offer the students the option of receiving tutoring paid by NCLB funds (known as supplemental educational services, SES). There has been a fair amount of criticism of the unevenness of those providers (see Research shows key NCLB provision not helping students and Evidence Thin on Student Gains From NCLB Tutoring ), and often it’s difficult for those tutors to really communicate well with students’ teachers to coordinate on curriculum and student strengths and challenges.

The way that our school has set it up has teachers identifying students who appear that they might need tutoring and initiating a discussion about how the program works. It’s quite simple — we have a list of teachers at the school who have said they’d be open to being a tutor; the student can review the list (with help from a teacher who knows him/her and who can provide suggestions on who might be a good fit); the student arranges to “interview” potential tutors; and then they develop a contract that is agreed to by all parties (including parents). There can be one or twenty sessions, and the teacher is paid the regular hourly rate paid by the District for extra activities.

I love the way it has transformed some conversations I’ve had with students. Several of my students are having major challenges in their math classes. I’ve been able to approach them to share my concern about what I hear from their math teacher, and explain to them that they could get their own individual tutor; they could hire a teacher of their choice; they can interview several if they want; and then they help determine when and where the tutoring takes place.  If they try it out, and don’t like it, then they can fire their tutor and find someone else.  We review the names of available teachers, and I can help them narrow down who might be a good fit — temperamentally and language and content-wise.  It sends a message, I believe, that we really are going the extra mile, and that they have power in their hands.   It maximizes the benefit for students as well, since it’s very easy for teachers to communicate with each other about the individual student, and since we have common curriculum in many of our classes,  students won’t using content that is “parachuted” in by an outside provider.

As Ted puts it,  “It reflects our school’s thinking.  We don’t just want to put on a tutoring center after school,  say we provided it,  and then blame the kids for not coming. ”

Even if some students don’t follow-through, it removes an excuse that they can give themselves (and others) for why they aren’t doing well.

Are any of your schools doing anything like this?