Monday, December 10, 2007

There's No Free Lunch...

...only there is, actually, in public schools. Every year my school district sends me a free lunch form for my daughter, and every year I duly toss it in the trash. I happen to know I make too much money to qualify, so why bother filling out an extra form? Anyway, my daughter refuses to eat the school lunch and prefers to bring her own.

But a lot of kids in my district qualify, and perhaps that's why they had representatives from tutoring programs stationed at the door of my daughter's school one day. Now on this day, my wife happened to be taking her home, and a guy from a tutoring company offered her free tutoring. She said we probably made too much money and wouldn't qualify, but eager sales guy said no, everyone qualifies. As the price was right, she signed up.

The next week, the company mailed us a two-dollar plastic headset to hook up to the family computer, and my daughter commenced her tutoring. She spent two hours talking with the folks who run the program and several kids from her class. She wrote one paragraph that no one checked, corrected or criticized (except me, after the class).

As it happened, I have a little experience with extra help programs. A few years ago, when my daughter was struggling, I put her in a program called SCORE, run by Kaplan. That was a good program, but this was crap. Still, she said she enjoyed it, and it didn't seem to hurt anything, so with great effort, I kept my big mouth shut.

Three days later, we got a call from the company. Apparently we didn't qualify after all, and would we please send them three hundred bucks so my daughter could continue this valuable program? My wife, who is much nicer than I am, politely declined.

The next week, my daughter's teacher suggested a program of some sort for my daughter. It cost money, but we could send her for free if we qualified for free lunch. My wife called me and I told her not to waste her time. But she figured we had nothing to lose and filled out the form anyway. The following week we were approved for free lunch, though my income is at least double what it ought to be to qualify.

The day after we were approved, the tutoring company called, and congratulations to us, we didn't have to pay the three hundred bucks after all. Unfortunately for them, I happened to pick up the phone, gave the gentleman a few choice words about leading my daughter on and disappointing her, and hung up. However, this was a question of money for the guy, so he kept calling back.

It was very important I hear his side of the story. He shouldn't have said everyone qualified, that was his fault, but this was a great opportunity. I told him I thought his program was a waste of time, my daughter was involved with school activities, sports, and other things, and I'd just as soon let her watch TV as chat with his employees. He asked what I knew about education. I hung up, and he called back (note to self--buy phone with caller ID for attic office).

I'm not sure whether or not these programs are an offshoot of NCLB. When I complained to my daughter's school, the principal characterized this particular company as "overly aggressive." I told her he was an opportunistic dirtbag with no business hawking his wares in a public school. She apologized, but said she had no control over who came in with tutoring programs.

It's a disgrace such lowlife companies are granted access to our kids. They aren't properly screened, if indeed they're screened at all. With a minimum of effort, we could do a lot better.
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