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Supplemental Educational Services under NCLB: Charting Implementation

Authors: Gail L. Sunderman
Date Published: October 02, 2007

This brief examines trends in the implementation of the NCLB supplemental educational services program over five years (2002-03 to 2006-07). It is based on data collected from six states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and Virginia) and eleven districts within those states that enrolled large numbers of minority and low-income students. The sample includes the nation’s three largest public schools districts: Los Angeles Unified School District, the Chicago Public Schools, and the New York City Public Schools. Together, these three districts enroll over 2 million students in 1,807 schools. Three districts—Mesa, AZ, Fresno, CA, and DeKalb County, GA—are among the nation’s 50 largest school districts (Sable & Young, 2003). The five remaining districts are located in major metropolitan areas in Phoenix, AZ (Washington Elementary School District), Buffalo, NY, Arlington County, VA, Richmond, VA, and Atlanta, GA. The six states and eleven districts are part of a larger study on NCLB.1 Data was collected from state websites and directly from district officials. A more detailed description of the data sources used in this brief is contained in the appendix.
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October 2007

Supplemental Educational Services under NCLB: Charting Implementation

Gail L. Sunderman
The supplemental educational services (SES) provisions exemplify the principles discernable in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that rely on accountability and competition as mechanisms to improve education and produce better opportunities for disadvantaged students.  According to the law, SES should help to enhance student achievement, expand the educational opportunities of students, and also provide an incentive for low- performing schools to improve their instructional program (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).  The SES provisions of NCLB build on notions that the private sector can provide services better than the public school sector.  It joins other reform ideas, such as charter schools and the management of public schools by private educational companies, as school reform remedies based on ideas about competition and accountability.  SES holds out the promise that low-income families will now have access to a market once reserved to those who could pay for services (Henig, 2006).  But realizing this promise may be more complicated than anticipated.
Our data shows that demand for supplemental educational services has either declined or leveled off after five years. This has come as federal funds allocated for SES increased and as more students have become eligible to receive services. The increase in the absolute number of students enrolled in SES is related to more schools identified for improvement, and thus, more students eligible to receive services. What is striking is that the increase in the number of eligible students has not translated into an increased demand for SES.  
Supplemental services such as tutoring can be beneficial for improving the performance of disadvantaged students.  However, there is very little evidence documenting the effectiveness of SES as mandated by NCLB and many reasons, from research on school reform, to question whether the current program will result in performance gains.  Because the SES provision will have major consequences for low-income and minority students, its intended beneficiaries, our interest is in understanding how these services are implemented, who takes advantage of them, and what benefits may be derived from participating. The amount of resources devoted to SES, the growth in the number of providers, and the increasing number of students eligible to receive services suggest that the SES program will have significant fiscal implications for districts and consequences for how supplemental Title I services are delivered.


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