Innovations in Education: Creating Strong Supplemental Educational Services Programs
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When Deborah George's eight-year-old daughter Melissa* entered fourth grade, she was still struggling with reading. She had just started a new school and felt anxious when she had to read aloud in front of her classmates. "I hate reading," she told her mother.

Deborah tried to help her daughter at home, but it was a challenge. When she was able to convince Melissa to read aloud, Deborah discovered that she was guessing at words rather than sounding them out and was not understanding very much of what she was reading. Her poor reading skills were causing Melissa to fall behind in other subjects as well.

Frustrated in her own efforts and anxious to find help for Melissa, Deborah asked her daughter's teacher to recommend a private tutor. But she quickly found out that the cost of individual tutoring was well beyond her financial means.

A short time later, Deborah received what she calls "a remarkable letter" from the Toledo Public Schools telling her that Melissa was eligible to receive free tutoring. The letter explained that this opportunity was a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. It also said she could choose any service provider she wanted from a list that had been approved by the Ohio Department of Education. Included with the letter was a brochure identifying the providers and giving contact information for each one in case parents wanted more information. Deborah notified the district of her choice and soon thereafter Melissa began spending an hour and a half twice a week with the tutor her mother had chosen.

Six weeks into the tutoring, Deborah enthusiastically described Melissa's progress: "She says she loves to read now, and she even raises her hand to read aloud in class. She's made so much progress in such a short time that it's just amazing. Her teacher noticed her improvement almost immediately. I made a great choice with this tutor: He assessed Melissa's skills and zeroed in on just what she needs, and he gives her practice to do at home. For the first time, she loves doing homework. The most amazing thing is that she has asked us for books for Christmas because she loves to read."

Melissa continued to make progress in reading, and, as a result, her grades in other subjects steadily improved. She passed the fourth grade reading proficiency test on her first try.

Melissa beams confidence and self-esteem when she describes her progress. Asked how the tutoring has helped, she thinks for a minute and then says, "Well, before I couldn't read. Now I can. I think anyone who has a reading problem should get a tutor like Mr. Miller."

Supplemental Educational Services: Giving Parents More Options, Giving Students Extra Help

When it comes to picking up on warning signs that their child is having difficulty in school, parents are pretty intuitive, and they want to act. But how? The common sense notion that some children need more instructional time than others to master the curriculum is supported by research and theory. If all students are to achieve to grade-level standards, every student must receive the specific support that he or she needs as a learner, including extra time with individual attention and precisely focused instruction. Studies show that students who continue to struggle in school without intervention compound their learning losses into a larger deficit that is difficult to remediate. In contrast, carefully tailored learning interventions can yield quite remarkable and swift progress in overcoming learning obstacles, as evidenced in Melissa's experience working with a reading tutor.

Parents who can afford it have commonly obtained this type of intervention for their child by paying for private tutoring or after-school skill-building courses. Low-income parents want the same extra support for their children, but haven't had that option. Now, thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), their options are expanding. NCLB's Supplemental Educational Services (SES) provision gives parents of eligible children the opportunity and the funding to choose a private tutor or other academic support provider to help their child succeed in school.

This focus on parental choice places significant emphasis on parents' knowledge and understanding of their child's education needs. It also demonstrates a confidence in parents' ability to choose the most appropriate academic intervention for their child from among marketplace competitors. An important tenet of the law is that low-income parents should have the same range of options available to parents who can afford to scan the marketplace and select an academic intervention service that meets their child's needs. Under NCLB's SES provision, a key responsibility for states and districts alike is to present eligible parents with as many diverse provider options as possible. The services offered across the country include one-on-one tutoring, small-group prescriptive skill-building, individualized gap assessment and remediation, small-group drill and practice, computer-based assessment and skill-building, interactive e-tutoring on the internet, and internet-based skill-building with direct feedback.1 The settings in which children participate in SES activities include their own schools or another nearby district school, community centers, faith-based centers, libraries, service providers' centers, computer centers, and their own homes. When parents are given a wide variety of provider options, service providers must compete for their business. This competitive market encourages continuous improvement of program quality and services to students and their families.

The District's Role in SES

States and school districts both play integral roles in designing the scaffolding to support parental choice, but it falls primarily to the local district to bring SES to life for its families. To aid in that effort, this guide shares the early implementation experiences of five districts across the country. Varying in size and setting, each has struggled with the same issue: how to ensure that parents of eligible students can realize the full potential of the choice granted to them by this historic legislation. The districts are not presented as exemplars. Similarly, district artifacts included in the guide (e.g., an SES promotional flyer) are not presented as ideal models but rather as examples. Nor are their implementation strategies proposed as perfect practice. But for the last two years these local educational agencies have been busy figuring out what works for them, what works better, and what doesn't work at all. From their experiences, some common themes emerge and some lessons that might be helpful to others heading down this road—first among them that SES provides an opportunity to bring more partners to support the work of schools and teachers to improve achievement of their lowest-performing students. Their stories are presented in that light.

Getting clear on the SES requirements and, even more, on what districts need to do to implement those requirements is the first challenge. States are responsible for soliciting, screening, and approving providers and for maintaining an updated list based on providers' performance record. Parents get to decide which provider to use, and they receive regular reports from the provider about their child's progress. Independent contractors provide the services (as can the district itself if it has been approved by the state as a provider). In the middle is the district, whose task is to create the conditions and manage the logistics that make it possible for parents to exercise their right to choose a service provider for their children.

Among their "first steps," districts need to establish contracting relationships with service providers and develop a notification and application process for parents of eligible students. Once new structures and processes are initiated, attention can turn to "going deeper," including orchestrating a communications plan that engages more parents, expanding community-based networks to keep parents informed about their options, and building on SES approaches to extend academic intervention opportunities broadly throughout the district. In all SES efforts, districts should stay focused on the goal of ensuring that parents have easy access to as broad a choice of providers as possible in order to find the appropriate support for their child.

Figure 1. NCLB School Improvement Timeline

School Year 1 Does not make AYP  

School Year 2 Does not make AYP  

School Year 3 1st year of school improvement
  • Technical assistance
  • Public school choice

School Year 4 2nd year of school improvement
  • Technical assistance
  • Public school choice
  • Supplemental educational services

Some basics: As shown in figure 1, a school that does not make AYP for two years running is labeled "in need of improvement," a designation that requires its district to offer public school choice to students in that school the next year.2 (If districts are unable to offer choice, they are encouraged to offer SES to eligible students instead that first year.3)If the school misses its AYP for a third year, the NCLB's supplemental educational services provision kicks in. If the school continues to miss AYP, moving into corrective action and, then, restructuring, the district must continue offering choice and SES to eligible students.

Figure 2. State and District Roles

State District
Define adequate yearly progress (AYP) and identify which schools are “in need of improvement” because they have not made AYP.

Determine which students at an improvement school are eligible for services.

Develop a method that uses “fair and equitable criteria” to identify the school’s lowest-achieving students (if parental demand for SES exceeds available funding, these students must be given priority).

Publicize the SES-provider application process.  

Approve providers, and regularly update the list of approved providers, using an objective application process that screens for:

  • demonstrated record of effectiveness in improving
    academic achievement,
  • instructional strategies based on research, and
  • services consistent with the instructional program of the district and with state content and achievement standards, that are financially sound, and that meet health, safety and civil rights laws.

Give districts a list of available approved providers in their general geographic locations.

Notify parents of all eligible students about the availability of services, at least annually. Ensure that parents have comprehensive, easy-to-understand information about:

  • the services, qualifications, and evidence of effectiveness for each provider,
  • the procedures and timelines that parents must follow in selecting a provider to service their child, and
  • the possibility that, if demand for SES exceeds available district funding, priority will be given to the lowest- performing, low-income students, as identified by the district.

If requested, help parents choose a provider.

If requests exceed available funding, apply the criteria to identify those who will receive services.

Enter into a contract with any approved provider selected by parents of eligible students for whom funding is available.

Develop and implement standards and techniques for monitoring the quality, performance, and effectiveness of the services offered. Report publicly. Provide the information the state education agency (SEA) needs to monitor the quality and effectiveness of the services offered by providers.

Remove from the list any provider that fails for two consecutive years to contribute to increased student proficiency relative to state academic content and achievement standards.  

SES-eligible students are low-income students in those schools; if there are insufficient funds to serve all eligible students, priority goes to the lowest-achieving students. Districts with schools in need of improvement are required to spend an amount equal to 20 percent of their Title I, Part A allocation on a combination of supplemental educational services and any transportation required for choice under NCLB, with a minimum of 5 percent dedicated to SES. Districts do not have to provide transportation for SES. None of the 20 percent can be spent on administrative costs, which must be covered in some other fashion. A district must provide, for each child's services, an amount equivalent to the district's Title I, Part A per-child allocation (the amount of Title I, Part A funds the district receives, divided by the number of poor and other children counted under the federal census Title I formula), unless the actual cost of services is lower. District Title I per-child allocations vary greatly across the country, but generally range from $750 to $1900.4 For more information on state and district SES roles, see figure 2. For additional guidance, see the Office of Innovation and Improvement Web site:

Case Study Sites and Methodology

The five districts profiled in this guide are Forsyth County, Ga.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Rochester, N.Y.; San Diego, Calif.; and Toledo, Ohio. Basic statistics about these districts appear in figure 3. For a narrative summary of each district's context and programs, see appendix A.

Figure 3. Demographics of Five Profiles School Districts

These five districts were selected from a larger set of possible sites as part of the benchmarking methodology that underlies this study. Thirty-six districts were identified as potential sites for one of two reasons: they were SES-eligible districts in states that had actively addressed SES and had many approved providers, or they were suggested as districts that had actively addressed SES in the view of state department staff, SES providers, or members of the advisory group. Existing public data and targeted interviews provided preliminary information about these districts that was used to "screen" sites and identify those that appeared to have practices in place in several key operational areas. For example, they had clearly articulated strategic plans for administering SES, outreach and communications strategies for both parents and providers, and explicit contracting and recordkeeping procedures.

This exploratory, descriptive approach is adapted from the four-phase benchmarking process used by the American Productivity and Quality Center (see appendix B for further details). In benchmarking, organizations analyze their own operations and look to promising practice partners for ideas of specific practices that might help them improve. For this study, an advisory group of researchers, providers, and practitioners with experience in supplemental educational services helped guide the focus. Their input, together with an examination of research literature and an analysis of NCLB requirements, led to the study scope (see appendix B).

Descriptions of the districts' practices were collected through two-day site visits that included interviews with providers, principals, and parents, as well as district staff. The districts arranged these interviews and also provided copies of artifacts, such as sample letters, brochures, contracts, lesson plan forms, and so forth. For each district, the study team then summarized in an individual case report the practices and lessons learned; a cross-site analysis organized the findings by topic and revealed common patterns. This guide is adapted from the full research report and also incorporates advice from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement, which, jointly with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, oversees implementation of the NCLB supplemental educational services provision. Results from specific district practices, district rationales for what they did, patterns across districts, and common sense, along with the initial framework, led to the themes and suggested actions in this guide.

This descriptive research process suggests promising practices—ways to do things that others have found helpful or lessons they have learned about what not to do—and practical "how-to" guidance. This is not the kind of experimental research that can yield valid causal claims about what works. Readers should judge for themselves the merits of these practices, based on their understanding of why they should work, how they fit the local context, and what happens when they actually try them. Also, readers should understand that these descriptions are not intended to add any requirements beyond what is already in the NCLB statute and regulations.

Organization of the Guide

This guide shares practical ideas from districts around the country that have been learning as they go in the early implementation of SES. It is organized around four action areas and specific key actions in each—some that are first step, some that are going deeper (see figure 4).

Figure 4. Key Actions to Implement Supplemental Educational Services

Action First Steps Going Deeper
Embrace the Spirit of SES
  • Set a positive tone.
  • Staff SES strategically within the organizational structure.
  • Put a plan in place.
  • Review results and improve process.
  • Identify barriers to parent participation.
  • Establish new roles and structures.
  • Make SES a complementary part of ongoing extended learning programs.
  • Strengthen parent advisory groups and partnerships.

Build Relationships
  • Find out about providers who will serve your district.
  • Work out provider access to facilities.
  • Use a contract that sets clear expectations.
  • Increase communication and coordination between providers and schools.
  • Expand the number and type of providers in the district.

Reach Out to Inform Parents
  • Communicate options clearly.
  • Enlist schools in a campaign to reach parents.
  • Expand communication channels.
  • Increase community involvement in getting the word out.

Set Clear Goals and Track Progress
  • Use detailed and specific student learning plan forms.
  • Share data and set student goals aligned with the district's instructional program.
  • Monitor attendance.
  • Set up and use regular progress reports to inform teachers and parents.
  • Evaluate student progress on district assessments.
  • Survey parents.
  • Reflect on implementation and adjust efforts based on formative feedback.

*For privacy purposes, the names in this otherwise real story have been changed.

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Last Modified: 07/08/2009