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Oldest and Largest Federal Aid Program to Schools

Department of Education Web site, the headline above Title 1 reads: "Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged." Further into the government's description of Title 1 - the largest and oldest federal aid program for elementary and secondary schools - readers learn that it exists in order "...to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." Those are laudable, lofty, idealistic and thoroughly worthy goals. But numerous questions arise in the mind of an objective Title 1 researcher, such as: 1) what is the most effective way in which Title 1 funds may be used? 2) what do teachers envision when they project Title 1 impacts five years from now? 3) Do the Title 1 resources truly make a substantial difference in a child's success?

History of Title 1

Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965; and the most significant, substantial and best-known portion of the legislation was Title 1 - which provided money to assist poorly performing students in "disadvantaged" schools. One drawback of the original legislation was that Title 1 funds could not be co-mingled with any other grants or funding sources a school receives. That ESEA restriction was eased in 1988, as Congress reauthorized the bill (re-naming Title 1 "Chapter 1"), which at that time allowed schools with at least 75% of the student body below the poverty line to use the funds to create school-wide programs. The advantage of this measure was that funded programs could be integrated into a school, and all low-income children, not just "at risk" or "low-achieving" students, would benefit.

And then, in 1994, the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) changed Chapter 1 back to Title 1, and built more flexibility into the program. The "new" Title 1 now called for accountability, and shifted the focus from low-income and poorly achieving students to students from all economic backgrounds. The IASA Title 1 also offered funding for programs featuring students with high academic potential - a very new innovation.

Meanwhile, the very latest version of Title 1 came off the drawing boards as part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, in 2001, a product of the George W. Bush Administration and members of Congress who jointly were participants in its creation. The NCLB, incidentally, has set highly robust goals (for all its programs, including Title 1) that some educators and politicians say are unachievable; indeed, a number of states have begun to "lower the passing grades on the standardized tests" that the new law mandates. In fact, several U.S. Senators are initiating a bill which would allow states to obtain a "waiver" to escape the strict requirements. After all: if stringent rules are not met with regard to student achievement in math and English/language arts by a target date, schools can lose federal aid, and/or be taken over for "restructuring." Notwithstanding the outcome of attempts to obtain waivers, the ideal Title 1 program under NCLB should be school-wide, funded from multiple sources, and should prepare students to meet challenging new state standards.

NCLB (Title 1) Rhetoric VS Reality - Is the White House really committed?

Just as good nutrition powers the brains of students, money makes Title 1 programs work. And in order for schools to meet the stiff new challenges, billions of dollars are flowing from Washington D.C. To school districts in the 50 states; hence, it's pertinent to examine funding while also exploring the potential success and failure rates of Title 1. In that context, it's clear that the Bush budgets (both for fiscal year 2003 and fiscal year 2004) have not shown the same commitment to Title 1 NCLB that Bush's rhetoric led the nation to believe they would, in 2002, when the bill became law in very public "photo opportunities" and "sound bites." Indeed, a little more than a year after Bush stood side-by-side on the White House lawn, with long-time education advocate, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Kennedy was sharply criticizing the budget submitted by the president. Kennedy said (in 2002) that the $1.4 billion increase for all education programs is the "smallest increase in seven years" (Techniques, 2002), and would actually cut $90 million from elementary and secondary school programs covered by the NCLB. Not only did Kennedy express concern that the budget fails to meet the commitments pledged by Bush, he noted that Bush's budget proposes 50 times more on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans than for new education spending. "If we fail to provide greater resources," Kennedy said, "we will send a very discouraging message [to schools] about the importance of these reforms and severely diminish their chances of success. I believe a $10 billion increase for education over last year is called for to implement the school reform."

Meanwhile, if the administration's budget request for fiscal 2004 is enacted, federal education funding would rise to $53.1 billion, the highest level in history and "an increase of nearly $11 billion since I took office," Bush said in June, 2003. (Cardman, 2003).

Meanwhile, however, Tom Houlihan, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), rebutted Bush's remarks: "With the worst state budget deficits in 40 years, states cannot be expected to fully implement this law without the resources that they were promised by the Congress and administration when the bill was signed into law," said Houlihan.

Title 1 Success Stories

1) Berkeley County School District, South Carolina

In South Carolina, the Berkeley County School District (BCSD) has utilized the reauthorization of Title 1 to greatly enhance their service to students (Etheridge, 2001), according to a case study. The BCSD has 34 schools, and of those 16 are elementary, 3 intermediate, 9 middle and 6 are high school level - with a combined enrollment of 26,000 students. The Title 1 program includes 21 program sites (11 elementary, 2 intermediate, 6 middle and 2 high schools) which serve more than 12,000 pupils; of those children, 90% fall under the poverty line. An average of $3.5 million per year has been allocated from Title 1 funding.

As to the ethnicity of the Title 1 targeted students in the BCSD, 62% were white, 34.6% African-American, and 3.4% from other ethnic groups. In the second full year (1998) following the implementation of Title 1 resources (1996), the percentage of low-income students 4th graders who scored below the 25th percentile (Q1) was reduced (in reading skills) from 41.1% to 36.8%, and in math skills, from 36.1% to 30.3% (Etheridge, 2001). Another positive indicator was the slow but sure rise in the number of students who scored above the "national average" in reading and math; interestingly, all student groups in the BCSD showed improvement in that category except non-Title 1 students in 7th grade. To wit, students in 4th grade under Title 1 went from 32.2% above the national average in reading to 34.6%; in math, the Title 1 fourth graders jumped from 40.5% above the national average to 46.5%. And for the BDSD 7th graders under Title 1, they rose (in math) from only 32.9% being above the national average, to 42.6% above the national average. That's a pretty hefty leap, if you believe testing numbers truly reflect performance and achievement. (More on testing a bit later in the paper).

As to the reasons why BCSD has enhanced the learning abilities of its Title 1 participants, the case study (Etheridge, 2001) lists "Ten Conclusions From 'Growth Through Review'" - beginning with the statement that "The key to any academic intervention is the teacher." This of course is not a startling revelation, but as multiple school districts have discovered, teachers need additional resources when they're required to complete additional tasks. Those resources include teacher training, updated materials (including digital technologies), and incentives. The remaining "Ten Conclusions," which could easily apply to any school using federal tax dollars through Title 1, include: staff development; early learning / parenting; effective school leadership; good district administrative planning for long-range objectives; receptivity to change by school leadership at all levels; creative academic interventions; sensible seeking of outside resources; stakeholder inclusion (parents, community, students); and "Divine guidance (prayer and seeking of spiritual values)" (Etheridge, 2001).

2) "Literacy Booster Groups" and "Reading Recovery" (Title 1 Innovation)

The writer (MacKenzie, 2001) who researched Title 1 accomplishments at Landon Elementary, while not trying to be secretive, likely agreed not to identify the precise location of this school (for security reasons); all the person who reads the Reading Teacher research article knows is that Landon is "a neighborhood school located in a lower middle-income community adjacent to a larger urban area in the Midwestern U.S." [Editor's note: Landon Elementary is not to be confused with the Landon School for boys outside Washington, D.C.]

The Title 1 program at Landon Elementary (LE), serving 400 students, has been operating for…[continue]

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