This week my middle school held its SES (Supplemental Education Services) provider fair, which serves to inform parents of the free tutoring services and introduce them to the providers. The CBO and after school program that I work for provides SES (mostly just to the kids in after school), and there are also about 7 or 8 other companies this year, most of them for-profits. The for-profits had their slick sales representatives and glossy packets on display, and they really went after the parents hard.
The School of Bloggers think that having companies compete to give free services to poor and disadvantaged kids is probably a good thing. I see health insurance companies all over poor neighborhoods in New York City giving out insurance, and it seems like more people will take advantage of free services when they are actively recruited (and spoken to in their language, something that is noticeably lacking in many public institutions in this city). True to form, most of the companies brought Spanish translators to the fair while the school is usually unable to find one for parent meetings, although they did have one at the fair.
But although parents might feel like their kids are getting better services as a result of the competition (I really have no idea whether this is true, but there are a lot of stories about terrible SES providers - I remember a story about kids in a Platform Learning program just watching movies all the time), most of the parents I talked to at the fair seemed confused and totally overwhelmed. There were so many providers that the administrators rushed through the description of what SES was and didn't give the translator much time at all, so most of the parents had no idea what they were signing up for.
If this is the case, does it really make a difference how many providers there are in the school? Even if parents understood what was going on, how can they possibly choose the best provider for their kid when they are being bombarded for all sides by sales representatives? Maybe having agressive providers can be a good thing if they are able to reach more parents at home (there were a very small number of parents at the fair), but I'm worried that the cutthroat competition at the school will turn a lot of parents off and push them to avoid the whole thing.