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N.I.E. To Conduct $6.5-Million Review of Chapter 1 Program

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Washington--The National Institute of Education is undertaking a $6.5-million, two-year study of the federal compensatory-education program, the first comprehensive examination of the program since it was altered in 1981 by the Reagan Administration.

The study, which is scheduled for completion in January 1987, was ordered by the Congress last November, primarily to assess the effect of the program changes under the Reagan Administration, according to Mary M. Kennedy, the director of the project. The study is called "A National Assessment of the ecia Chapter 1 Program."

Largest Precollegiate Program

Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981, which serves economically and educationally disadvantaged students, is the largest federal precollegiate-education program. The Congress appropriated $3.7 billion to operate it in the current fiscal year.

Chapter 1 is less prescriptive than the previous law providing for compensatory education, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Critics had charged that Title I burdened states and school districts with excessive paperwork and that its myriad regulations constituted excessive federal intrusion into school districts' affairs.

Three Reports

According to a draft research plan prepared for recent Congressional briefings, nie will prepare three studies of Chapter 1. The first two will serve as the interim reports required by the Congress and will essentially rely on existing data, Ms. Kennedy said.

According to the draft outline, one report, due in January 1986, will examine the nature and extent of students' need for compensatory-education services. The other, due in July 1986, will analyze exemplary Chapter 1 programs and seek to detail the characteristics of Chapter 1's effectiveness, in part by looking at outcomes.

The prospective final product, due in January 1987, has been tentatively named "The Current Operation of the Program and the Prospects for Improvement." It will examine four major aspects of the compensatory-education program: the cost and contribution of program administration; targeting funds to schools and students; the processes for making decisions about program design; and the character and quality of services delivered to students.

Ms. Kennedy said the final draft of the project overview will be completed in two weeks.

In 1977, the nie completed a three-year, $15-million study of Title I, and in 1983, the Education Department's office of budget, planning, and evaluation released a similarly costly study of the compensatory-education program before the Reagan Administration. Ms. Kennedy said the new report will be longitudinal to the extent possible, using the data from previous studies and comparing findings.

Questions on Data

Norman Chachkin, deputy director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whose Federal Education Project recently completed a study of the first year of Chapter 1 in 10 states, expressed some skepticism about the nie's ability to collect the data necessary for a comprehensive report.

The lawyers' report, completed late last month, notes that as a result of reduced reporting requirements in Chapter 1, less information is being collected at the state and local levels.

"As far as I'm aware, there's no real hard data being collected" on the Chapter 1 program, Mr. Chachkin said. "Unless they are proposing new data collection ..., they are going to have something that's very anecdotal."

But Ms. Kennedy said the new study would collect fresh data, down to the district and school levels in order to complete the comprehensive final report for the Congress due in January 1987.

First Year Reviewed

The study by the lawyers' committee, "The First Year of Chapter 1," found that "the greatest changes from Title I had resulted from reduced appropriations rather than the enactment of Chapter 1."

Federal support for Title I in 1979 was $3.2 billion; Chapter 1 funding for 1982-83 was reduced to about $3 billion, according to the report. It estimated that about one-half of all eligible students participated in Title I; after the cut, "no more than 30 to 40 percent of eligible students in need were being helped."

The 109-page report was based on interviews with state and local Chapter 1 officials and parents, and on their responses to a detailed questionnaire.

According to the study, one significant program change in the first year of Chapter 1 was the "significant reduction or complete elimination of parental involvement in at least a third" of the 27 districts studied.

The report called for increased federal monitoring of the program and updated regulations and guidance to ensure proper use of Chapter 1 funds at the state and local levels.

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