"The New Title 1: Levers for Educational Change,"by William L. Taylor January/February 1995 issue of Poverty & Race
Last October, with little fanfare, Congress enacted a law calling for major changes in public education throughout the nation. The changes came in the form of amendments to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the 1965 law providing federal assistance now almost $7 billion annually--for the education of disadvantaged students.
Taken together, the amendments add up to a major agenda for education reform --reform that can benefit poor children, minority children and children with limited English proficiency or with disabilities, and indeed that can strengthen the education offered to all children. But, like most reforms, the changes are not self-executing: whether they bring about real benefits will depend on the efforts of child advocates, education and community action of groups in monitoring what occurs at every level --the school, the local education agency, the state education de-partment and the federal government.
The foundation of the Title I reforms is a trilogy of policy changes in these areas: standards, assessment and accountability.
∑ Standards: Under the old law, most school districts operated a two-tiered system under which economically disadvantaged students were expected to master only "basic skills." The new law recognizes that simply mastering basic skills is not good enough and that all children can perform at more advanced levels. It calls upon each state to produce content standards that specify the skills in each subject matter area that children will be expected to master.
∑ Assessment: The new law calls for replacing the current norm-referenced. fill-in-the-bubble tests in which after a period of time almost all children are rated "above average." Instead, states be required to devise new forms of ill assessment, aligned with the content standards and curriculum, which measure what children actually know and can do. Students will be assessed at least three times during their school careers; the assessments will be administered to all students, including those who are disabled or limited in their English proficiency or who have moved frequently; results will be disaggregated by poverty and race as well as by gender, disability, limited English proficiency and migrant status.
∑ Accountability: Under the old law rarely were any consequences attached to success or failure by school officials. Indeed, some of the incentives were perverse, because schools and school districts stood to lose money if they reduced the number of low achievers. Under the new law, schools and districts are required to make steady "adequate progress toward moving students to proficient and advanced levels of achievement. Schools that succeed will receive incentives devised by the states, such as bonus pay for teachers, while schools and school districts that persistently fail will be subject to corrective actions. These actions may include replacement of principals and teachers or transfer of students to schools that are providing more effective education.
To help create learning environments that will bring about these changes, the new law takes several other steps:
∑ Whole-school approach: If schools are to be held accountable for adequate progress for all students, it makes sense for them to be allowed the flexibility to make school-wide improvements. Under the old law, Title I funds were often used for "pull-outs," under which educationally disadvantaged students were taken out of the regular classroom for 28 minutes a day of watered-down remedial instruction. Under the new law, a school will be able to initiate schooled programs if as many as 50% of its students are economically disadvantaged (down from 75% under the old law). Emphasis will be placed on strengthening instruction in the regular curriculum, or by extended day or summer programs, (rather than pull-outs) to supplement the regular program.
∑ Professional development: Recognizing that none of the new law's lofty goals are likely to be attained unless teaching is upgraded, the amendments make professional development a cornerstone of the Title I program. All participating schools are required to devote resources in amounts sufficient to provide high quality staff development. When schools fail to make adequate progress, they must apply approximately 5% of their grants over a two-year period to professional development.
∑ Increased equity in the allocation of federal and state funds: Efforts to secure fairness in the allocation of resources met with only partial success. Research showing the devastating educational effects of large concentrations of poverty led the Clinton Administration to recommend a new funding formula with weighting factors designed to direct more money to the districts with the highest concentrations of poverty. But Congress accepted this concept only as to "new money", that is, increases in Title I appropriations above existing levels. Even as to new funds, ways were left to avoid targeting. And, of course, the new conservative Congress may decide to decrease, not increase, appropriations.
As to state resources, the new Act does not address the deep-seated inequities of many state school financing systems which shortchange children (mainly minority and poor children) in property-poor districts that cannot produce enough revenue through property taxes, regardless of how high their taxes are, to support a good school program. The new law, however, calls on states to demonstrate how they will help poor school districts develop the capacity to meet the high standards the Act calls for.
Parent involvement: The new law strengthens previous provisions for parent involvement in several ways, including a stronger emphasis on family literacy programs. Local parent organizations and advocates may also be linked to a network of federally-funded parent resource centers to be developed under the related Goals 2000 legislation.
In the end, the success of the 1994 reforms will be determined at the school and community level. In states like Kentucky where innovative reform measures similar to those embodied in Title I have already been adopted, the new federal law will bolster existing efforts. In other states, advocates will have to try to use the new federal provisions to jump-start reform.
Several leverage points in the federal law may help advocates. States are required to develop plans setting forth their new standards and assessments and how they will help local districts and schools attain the capacity to succeed. The law requires states to include parents, teachers and others in developing these plans. Local school districts also are required to develop and submit to the states detailed plans for school improvement, including a description of their efforts to conduct adequate staff development and coordinate the provision of health and social services. Just as with state plans, parents and teachers have the right to be involved in development of district plans. Finally, schools seeking to follow a school-wide approach must also develop plans, again with input from parents and others.
Even if they do not participate in their development, advocacy groups can obtain and critique all of these plans-, challenging them when they do not meet the law's requirements either in concept or implementation. Finally, there are numerous other provisions requiring disclosure to parents and the public of information related to, e.g., standards, assessments and school improvement.
Similarly, there are key decision points at the federal level. The Department of Education has already solicited comments on some issues and will likely publish proposed regulations for public comment in February 1995. Whether the Department is true to the reform objectives of the law and vigorous in its enforcement will have a major influence on what happens in the lives of schoolchildren. And, advocates will have to be on the alert from January, 1995 on to protest regressive steps on appropriations or substance in Congress.
There is no question that conservative forces are on the move against the reforms in the 1994 law. One such outfit labels the accountability provisions as the dreaded "outcome-based education," and suggests that the possibility of state-imposed sanctions means "federal authority to abolish local elected school boards." The challenge will be wether their negative efforrts will be counterpoised by those who see in the new provisions a positive opportunity to strengthen public education and to improve the knowledge and skills of all children.
William L. Taylor a PRRAC Board member, serves as Counsel to the Independent Commission on Chapter 1, a 28-member education group that recommended many of the reforms adopted in the 1994 law. For more information, contact Taylor or Dianne Piche 202/659-5565; or Kati Haycock or Stephanie Robinson at the American Association for Higher Education, 202/293-0115ócontact one of them to receive their periodic Legislative Update.
|Poverty & Race Research Action Council | 740 15th St. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005|
©Copyright 1992-2018 Poverty & Race Research Action Council