Title I Reauthorization: Renew Federal Support to Under-Resourced Schools

By Dianne Piché

Vol. 21, No. 1, 1999 pp. 24-26

When Congress takes up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) later this year, the stakes will be higher than ever for poor and minority children. Particularly for those children attending schools that receive support from Title I, the section of the law aiding under-resourced schools, the outcome of the looming Congressional debate could make a big difference whether those children have access to the resources they need to succeed in school.

With an appropriation now over $8 billion, Title I is by far the largest of the ESEA programs, providing supplemental funds to schools serving high concentrations of low-income children in order to assist students in meeting high academic standards. Congress is likely to consider an array of competing proposals, including:

  • Whether to continue targeting Title I funds to high poverty schools and school districts as it does now;
  • Whether to redirect some portion of Title I funds into private school vouchers;
  • Whether to strip Title I of its original purpose to help poor children catch up through, for example, "block grants" to states; and
  • Whether to link Title I funding to measures that have an adverse impact on many poor and minority students, such as policies that demand an end to so-called "social promotion" without effective intervention measures and severe punitive procedures for children who experience problems.
  • The last time Congress reauthorized Title I, in 1994, it did so under very different political circumstances, and it largely adopted the recommendations of a coalition of education and civil rights advocates, along with the Clinton Administration. The 1994 amendments sought to recast Title I from a remedial program in math and reading to a powerful tool to assist schools with high concentrations of poverty to educate students to the same high academic standards as schools in the suburbs and elsewhere. Title I now calls on states and school districts:
  • To raise academic standards;
  • To build the capacity of schools and teachers to teach to high standards;
  • To develop and use fair and accurate assessments of students' attainment of the standards, to disaggregate assessment results by race, gender, income status, and other categories, and to refrain from using test results for purposes for which they have not been validated (e.g., for student placement or promotion decisions);
  • To hold school officials accountable for results, by providing intensive help to low-achieving schools and corrective action when schools fail to improve after several years of help;
  • To fully include limited English proficiency (LEP), disabled, homeless, and migrant children in Title I specifically and in the standards-based reforms in general, including a requirement that LEP students be assessed in their native language, or be provided with testing accommodations as appropriate.

An ongoing project of the the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights is monitoring implementation of the new Title I at the federal, state, district, and school levels, to determine whether and how key provisions of the new law designed to equalize learning opportunities for poor and minority students are actually being carried out.

Reforms sound and workable

The Commission recently released a report on the first phase of this effort, assessing state plans for Title I compliance and federal enforcement. The Commission found that the new Title I reforms are sound and workable. While the reforms called for by the 1994 amendments are still in midstream, evidence of their impact is accumulating in states that had similar initiatives in effect prior to 1994 and in places that have acted rapidly to implement the 1994 reforms. In the South, and elsewhere across the country, examples of high-achieving high poverty high-minority schools are helping to dispel harmful myths about race, class and learning. For example, the Commission investigated two schools in Alabama that were identified as "Distinguished Title I Schools" by the Department of Education. These schools, Tuggle Elementary in Birmingham (100% African American and 90 percent low-income), and Adams Elementary (67 percent African American, 18 percent Latino and 92 percent low-income) in Gadsden, both are intensely focussed on developing a sound foundation in reading and language arts in the early grades. At Tuggle, the entire staff received intensive training as early participants in the state-sponsored Alabama Reading Initiative and receives ongoing assistance from both the Alabama Department of Education and the University of Alabama. Approaches include the


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use of Reading Recovery techniques and Effective Schools principles. Adams has developed a comprehensive school-wide program to meet the needs of a diverse student body, which includes students with multiple disabilities and growing numbers of migrant and LEP students.

Title I funds are used to pay for resource teachers, curriculum materials in reading and other subjects, a certified teacher to work with LEP students, a summer program for migrant students, and a district staff member to analyze student achievement data in order to provide teachers with information on each student's strengths and weaknesses. Approaches used at Adams include SRA (Science Research Associates) Direct Instruction, a curricular approach designed to improve basic reading skills, supplemented by an innovative science curriculum (funded by the federal magnet schools assistance program).

On a district-wide basis, the Commission has been examining several urban school districts that have made impressive gains. For example:

  • San Antonio and other cities in Texas have benefited from a number of statewide reforms that have produced gains and narrowed achievement gaps between African American and white and between Latino and white students. Statewide reforms have included a successful school finance lawsuit, and a statewide accountability system, which provides incentives to improve minority achievement. In addition, the San Antonio district used New American Schools design models such as Roots and Wings and Expeditionary Learning, along with sound professional development and bilingual efforts. The result: the number of low-performing schools has declined from forty to six over a five-year period.
  • In Memphis, a system-wide effort to improve student achievement included new content standards, increased school-based authority, and increased accountability, as well as the introduction of school improvement programs such as Roots and Wings and Accelerated Schools. Schools that have been redesigned along lines contemplated by Title I, have produced substantial gains in achievement and the proportion of students taking college preparatory courses in math has increased substantially.

States Range from Exemplary to Egregious

There is wide variance in the degree to which states have complied with the requirements of the new Title I, ranging from exemplary models to egregious violations of the law. Although most states reported they are taking steps to implement portions of the new law, there has been insufficient attention to key provisions designed to benefit or protect poor and minority children, particularly provisions designed to include LEP children and to hold schools accountable for the progress of all students. For example, many states consider schools to be making adequate progress, and thus take no corrective action, even when large numbers of students are still failing to achieve basic proficiency in reading and other subjects.

Failures by the U.S. Department of Education to take actions needed to implement and enforce the new Title I have retarded educational progress. The Clinton Administration has been steadfast in its support for public schools and efforts to direct more federal funds to poor areas. The Department of Education has taken positive action to further the purposes of the new Title I, including providing useful, though belated, guidance to the field and prodding states to adopt good procedures for identifying schools in need of improvement.

But, following the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, the Department shrank from furnishing clear messages to state and local education agencies on any issue that might prove controversial. As a result, many state and local education officials have received the impression that the new Title I is largely a deregulation law that will free them from bothersome federal conditions, and have failed to understand that the tradeoff in the law is higher standards and accountability for results. Most significantly, the Department has either failed to enforce or has misinterpreted key provisions of the law that are designed to equalize learning opportunities between poor and non-poor children. These include provisions for:

  • High standards and accountability in all subjects, not just reading and math. Educators and advocates know that when subjects like science and social studies do not "count," they are often taught poorly in Title I schools.
  • Statewide standards and assessments, to guard against the dual standards that prevail in many states, with higher standards in affluent suburban districts, and lower ones in poor urban districts.
  • Local and school capacity. Few states have made the commitment needed to help low-income districts acquire the resources to improve teaching, increase learning time, and assist all students in achieving at high levels, as contemplated by the law.
  • Progress has been further retarded by additional failures of the U.S. Department of Education, including:
  • The failure to ensure timely adoption of standards that meet the requirements of the law. As a result, as of the summer of 1998, thirty-four states and Puerto Rico still did not have performance standards for students or a process for developing them;
  • The failure to provide the assistance and guidance needed to states to develop the accountability and corrective action measures needed to improve failing schools, including strategic intervention for students who need it. As a result, too many states have continued to condone

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    persistent low achievement, along with high retention and drop out rates in Title I schools.
  • The failure to explain and enforce the statutory requirement that children be assessed in the language and form most likely to yield accurate information about their ability;
  • The failure to insist on processes for assuring that children with disabilities will receive accommodations and will not be excluded from assessment except in rare circumstances;
  • The failure to make clear to states and local education agencies that Title I assessments are not to be used for high stakes purposes;
  • The failure to require states to measure separately the annual yearly progress of poor children and children with limited English proficiency so that the requirements of the law cannot be met solely by the gains of more advantaged children; and
  • The failure to place sufficient emphasis on the importance of improving teaching through effective programs of professional development.

Cumulatively, these faults and misinterpretations have served to undermine a central objective of the new Title I: to eliminate the prevailing dual system of education that consigns poor children, children of color and children with special needs to schools and programs with lower expectations, fewer resources and fewer opportunities than those enjoyed by the great majority of advantaged children.

In criticizing the U. S. Department of Education, the Citizens' Commission does not suggest in any way that state and local officials have done their part to effectuate the purposes of the law. Many have not. Nor should Congress' role in holding back progress be under-emphasized.

Despite the shortcomings of the Department of Education in implementing the new Title I, there is every reason to believe that the program can be successful in the future. Since the process of reform contemplated is a long-term one, the five-year authorization period will expire before states have completed and implemented their reforms. But the experience of several states and cities in carrying out measures called for by Title I has already yielded positive results in the improved achievement of disadvantaged youngsters. Prospects for further gains will be enhanced by extending the 1994 reforms, increasing federal resources to improve teaching in high-poverty schools, and a commitment by the Clinton and subsequent administration to implement the law, including a willingness to enforce its provisions where violations occur.

Dianne M. Piché is a lawyer and writer specializing in civil rights and educational equity issues. She directs the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights' Title I Monitoring Project and is the principal author of the Commission report, "Title I in Midstream: The Fight to Improve Schools for Poor Kids." Portions of this article are reprinted with permission from that report and from an article which appeared in Poverty and Race (Nov/Dec 1998). For more information, or to order copies of the Commission's thirty-four page Title I report, please contact the Commission at 2000 M Street NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036, 202-659-5565, 202-223-5302 (fax), or e-mail dpiche@wltlaw.com.

The Citizens' Comission's most recent report, The Test of our Progress: The Clinton Record on Civil Rights is available at the Comission's address listed here. Orders may also be made by fax. The report is available at no cost to Southern Changes readers. It features five articles on affirmative action, judicial nominations, voting rights, and the census.