At One School, Questions 

Tutoring is a mixed bag at Esperanza Elementary.

Few places offer a starker picture of the challenges on the ground than Esperanza Elementary, a 300-student school in East Oakland.

Only 15 percent of the school's students scored at the proficient or advanced level in English in 2006 and 28 percent in math, according to the school district's web site. With approximately 71 percent of the school's students being Latino, principal Sondra Aguilera said her school's language problems are huge. Many students do poorly on tests simply because of their lack of understanding the English directions and problems.

Esperanza has been eligible for free tutoring for the two years it has been a failing school under No Child Left Behind. In that time, 26 percent of its students have used the outside tutors. "I do think it has improved for individual students, but it has not had the impact I would hope on all students," Aguilera said.

Sometimes parents decline the extra help, she said, because they feel it would result in too much time at school or that it would be problematic for them to go back and forth to pick up their children. "Even after we explain how much students need the program, families don't take advantage of the services," Aguilera added.

But even when students do sign up for tutoring, Aguilera said they don't get what they need because the "tutors themselves are not always qualified."

Consider Angelica Rodriguez, a parent from Tijuana and the mother of two children who signed up with Brain Hurricane last year. "I had to pull my daughters out of the program," Rodriguez said. "It actually was counterproductive; my daughters started getting worse grades." Her fifth-grade daughter, Mariana Rodriguez-Felici, scored poorly on the STAR tests in 2005, and in 2006 rose only 14 points, to 295 out of 550.

The Rodriguez family arrived in the United States some eight years ago and both Mariana and her nine-year-old sister Miriam were raised here, but have had difficulties with English. This year, after researching the tutoring companies online and asking teachers at Esperanza for advice, Angelica Rodriguez chose Sylvan.

"I chose this program because past programs haven't work at all," Rodriguez said. "The teachers in school recommended Sylvan, because they get motivated and they really learn how to read and write in English."

Sylvan will tutor forty students at Esperanza this year. Only Sylvan and ARC will work at the school because they were the only companies to attend its fall tutoring fair. "The level of attention has been good from both companies," Aguilera said. "So far, the companies have come to our school to test students and I am satisfied with the reports from Sylvan."

Last year, three other companies, including Brain Hurricane and Education Station, also worked at the school. Mother Angela Chavez said Brain Hurricane, the company that tutored her son and daughter last year, didn't fulfill the hours it promised. "My kids missed fourteen hours out of forty hours," Chavez said. "And they were the only ones to show up to every class and the company never paid back the hours."

Teachers at Esperanza said some of the companies that tutored their students in past years weren't sufficiently demanding when it came to the qualifications of their tutors. "I get that very often," Aguilera said. "I think they just pull anyone from the street and they are not teachers."

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