Princeton Review Charged With Falsifying Billing for Tutors

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The public education system these days is rife with ways that private enterprises can make money.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, student testing has increased, creating opportunities for test-making companies. New technology has opened the door to online educational services, causing an explosion of virtual classrooms.

And federally mandated tutoring services for under-performing students has proven to be a cash cow for tutoring companies -- so much so that with news that tutoring services would be limited to only the poorest students in New York City earlier this year, companies rushed to defend themselves in what appeared to be an organized response to a SchoolBook query (see query below, and add your views).

On Tuesday, the United States attorney's office in Manhattan announced the indictment of one of the largest and most well-known private tutoring companies, the Princeton Review, for falsifying records and accepting millions of dollars in reimbursements for testing services it never provided to New York City schoolchildren, The New York Times reports.

In the suit, which was brought against the company and a former supervisor, Ana Azocar, the government said the company submitted false claims between 2006 and 2010 for reimbursement for providing tutoring services under a federally financed program. “The company and certain of its employees forged student signatures, falsified sign-in sheets and provided false certifications in order to deceitfully profit from a well-meaning program,” the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said in a statement.

According to a news release by Mr. Bharara's office:

From 2006 to 2010, Princeton Review’s daily student attendance forms and invoices were replete with falsifications such as:

Entries were changed to indicate that students were present after the students were initially marked as absent. In some of these instances, the students’ signatures were obvious forgeries because the students’ own names were misspelled. On one attendance form, a student named Dontae was signed in as “Donate.”

Students were signed in as present on days when their parents later confirmed they were absent. For example, one student was in Mexico on a family vacation on four days when the student’s purported signature appears on daily student attendance forms. Another student was signed in as present on three days when in fact a note from the student’s doctor shows that the student was home from school recuperating from surgery.

Princeton Review was paid for tutoring students on days when records from the NYC DOE show that the students were absent from school or school was closed. For example, Princeton Review billed the NYC DOE for tutoring 74 students at MS 399 in the Bronx on New Year’s Day in 2008, when there were no SES classes due to the holiday.

In its account of the indictment, Gotham Schools publishes the full news release, as well as the company's response:

A spokesperson for Princeton Review did not deny the allegations but said that the alleged improprieties are part of the company’s past.

“The activity allegedly occurred within the company’s former Supplemental Educational Services division, which the company discontinued in 2010,” said the spokesperson. “No former SES employees or executives are with the company today, and current management — most of whom joined the company after the division was shuttered — had no involvement or role in the affairs of SES. We are working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s office to resolve this matter expeditiously.”

This is not the first time that allegations of improprieties have been raised about the for-hire tutors, and earlier this year the city's Department of Education had tried to limit the category of students for which free after-school tutoring is provided, because of the skyrocketing costs.

In that SchoolBook article, Anna M. Phillips reported:

Currently about 54,000 city students take part in federally funded tutoring, offered to them at no cost, because they attend schools that have failed for two years to make adequate progress under the No Child Left Behind law. The number of these schools is growing nationwide. It doubled in New York City, where higher standards on state tests led many more schools to fall below the law’s threshold and where the number of children eligible for the tutoring has soared.

But city education officials say that the federal funding is insufficient to cover the extra cost, meaning they will have to cut back.

Add your thoughts about tutoring services to the query below.

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine post has a more complete roundup of what's in the news this Wednesday.

Here are some of the education events going on around town on Wednesday:

Early in the morning, a student in a Midtown school will be notified that he or she is the New York winner of a national student art competition sponsored by Google. Called Doodle 4 Google, the contest invited students around the country to redesign Google's home page logo. The local winner's name will be announced at 9 a.m. The winner will advance to the national competition, and his or her artwork will be displayed at the New York Public Library.

From 5 to 6:30 p.m., artwork by New York public school students, produced with the help of the arts-in-education organization ArtsConnection, will be unveiled at Centerview Partners, 31 West 52nd Street, 22nd floor. The theme of the exhibit is "Goals and Dreams," and it will include "artwork by high school and middle school students from 40 schools throughout the five boroughs." UPDATED | The event is private.

From 6 to 8 p.m., Teachers College will launch a new high school curriculum on the federal budget, debt and deficit. The curriculum, created by a team of students and faculty at Teachers College, "will be available for free download and mailed to every high school in the nation," a news release says. The release says that Teachers College research "has found that, although the federal budget is supposed to be covered in the national core curriculum, in fact, most K-12 students are not exposed to it." The announcement, which will include a discussion by an impressive array of policy analysts, economists and educators -- including the former federal budget director, Peter Orszag -- takes place at Milbank Chapel, 120th and Broadway, Manhattan.

At 7:15 p.m., Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott delivers the opening remarks at the Citizen Schools Annual Benefit, New York Public Library, Celeste Bartos Forum, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.

From 7:30 to 9 p.m., the former city schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, will be on stage at the JCC in Manhattan, answering questions about his tenure and other educational issues. Tickets must be purchased.