Commentary

Revised Chapter 1 Opens Options for Schoolwide Plans

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The converging of two recent developments holds unusual promise for the provision of special services in public schools: Congressional approval of a whole-school approach to the delivery of Chapter 1 services and the increasing number of teacher contracts that expand the role of teachers in school-management decisions.

Freed by new regulations to use Chapter 1 funding for schoolwide projects aimed at helping disadvantaged students, schools need no longer rely on more specific--and less effective--remedial programs.

As long as students' eligibility for special services depended on their performing below a given standard--usually defined by scores on reading or mathematics tests--the implication was that it was the child's deficiencies, not the school's services, that needed to be addressed. The whole-school approach allows educators to move beyond this view.

Yet according to the Chapter 1 Technical Assistance Center in Indianapolis, only four or five districts in the country are currently exploiting the new guidelines for schoolwide projects.

With the opening of these avenues, the focus for special services can and should shift to prevention and support--to success--and away from remediation and failure.

Since the passage of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, districts have wrestled with the problems of educating low-achieving, disadvantaged students. In addition to the difficulties of designing and implementing programs that overcome achievement deficits, schools have been constrained by Chapter 1 (formerly Title I) regulations--to supplement, not supplant, regular programs, to serve only eligible students, to use standardized tests to determine eligibility, and to focus on reading and arithmetic.

Especially in schools with high concentrations of eligible students, logistical issues have often overwhelmed the best-intentioned programs.

Recognizing such problems when it reauthorized the esea in 1983, the Congress inserted a provision for schoolwide projects that permitted districts to ignore student-eligibility requirements in those schools where 75 percent or more of the students were from low-income families.

But few districts took advantage of this provision because they were required to pay a matching share for all students in project sites who were not eligible for Chapter 1 services.

In the most recent Chapter 1 reauthorization (effective July 1, 1988), the Congress removed this matching requirement. As a result, districts now have the opportunity to use Chapter 1 funds and staff at schoolwide-project sites with complete flexibility: Chapter 1 professionals can work in regular classrooms; pull-out programs can become team-teaching situations; parent-liaison staff can work with parents of special-education students; all faculty members can participate in Chapter 1 inservice or planning activities, and so on.

And contracts recently negotiated in a number of large, urban districts--including New York City, Miami, Rochester, and Philadelphia--dramatically expand the roles of teachers in school-management decisions. These contracts also suggest changes in the roles of principals--that they become facilitators of faculty involvement rather than directors of improvement efforts. Most important, the new agreements raise the prospect that teachers and principals will collectively develop programs especially appropriate for their students and communities.

The prospective shift in emphasis means that rather than depending on specialists, teachers will have the opportunity to work collaboratively in addressing the educational problems of low-achieving students. In fact, the legislation requires that participating schools present plans "developed with the involvement of those individuals who will be engaged in carrying out the plan."

Authority to conduct a schoolwide project is granted directly by the state educational agency upon approval of the plan. In exchange for flexibility, the legislation requires school-specific accountability and extensive parental involvement.

Indeed, districts are required not simply to involve parents in "the planning, design, and implementation" of programs, but also to work with them in such activities as information meetings, school-to-home assistance, and employment as classroom aides. This section of the legislation appears to reflect the work of Dr. James P. Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, and others who have built effective programs for disadvantaged students through parent participation.

Schools must also demonstrate improved achievement of "educationally deprived children" within three years of their projects' inception or risk having authorization withdrawn.

The flexibility provided to schoolwide projects using Chapter 1 resources should permit teachers to respond to the needs of other students in addition to the traditional Chapter 1 population. And since services can now be provided to children before they have been categorized as remedial or special or limited-English-proficient, program emphasis can shift from deficiency to prevention.

At the Heston School in Philadelphia, for example, a student-services committee now meets before or after school three days a week to review the cases of students referred by teachers or parents. Members of the committee include the principal, support staff, and referring teacher. Through careful planning for each student, the committee has been able to provide a variety of support services and to reduce special-education referrals from 29 in a comparable period last year to 1 this year--while giving the faculty an increased sense of effectiveness in responding to student needs.

The principal reports that the process is much less efficient than when he unilaterally solved the problems. It also requires him to act as a committee member rather than a leader. But he has found the results dramatic and satisfying.

At another Philadelphia elementary school, located next to a large housing project, the principal, parent advisory council, and faculty have developed a simple yet radical approach to dealing with the fact that their students need extra time to master the grade-level curriculum. They have decided to add an extra month to the school year--to teach in 11 months what would normally be covered in 10. In this way, they anticipate that the number of failures and summer-school candidates will be sharply reduced.

In fact, as a result of the new legislation, the number of schoolwide-project sites in the Philadelphia district as a whole has grown from none as recently as 1985 to 11 through June 1988, then to 37 in September 1988--with an anticipated increase to more than 100 sites by 1990-91.

In addition to the opening of schoolwide projects and a strong central-office commitment to school-based experimentation, two factors have been crucial to this development: a change in the process by which the district calculates school eligibility and a broadened needs-assessment section in the Chapter 1 annual application.

Although these shifts could easily be overlooked as merely technical, careful consideration of them will permit not only large, urban districts but even many smaller cities, rural areas, and suburban communities to gain eligibility for some of their schools.

To determine the proportion of low-income families at a school, districts are allowed by federal guidelines to use--either separately or in combination--such indicators as eligibility for the programs of Aid for Families with Dependent Children, free/reduced-price lunch, and food stamps. Given the relatively high income qualification for free/reduced-price lunch eligibility--a family of five with an annual income of $25,179 qualifies--and the fact that afdc or food-stamp eligibility automatically qualifies families for free lunch, many schools are likely to meet the 75 percent criterion for schoolwide-project participation if they work aggressively to maximize free/reduced-price lunch participation.

And by taking advantage of the revised guidelines for needs assessment and including in their annual proposals such indicators as incidence of low birth weight, court referrals, and social-studies achievement, districts can justify an expanded array of services drawing on Chapter 1 resources.

In this way, a schoolwide project could legitimately use Chapter 1 funds, for example, to pay for social workers, medical services, and science programs, as long as these services go beyond those already available from the districts' regular budgets.

The new regulations challenge educators and parents in schools across the country to provide more effective schooling for the educationally disadvantaged.

Indeed, the improved flexibility for schoolwide projects creates a put-up or shut-up situation for schools and parent organizations. With the option of using Chapter 1 funds as discretionary resources, school faculties for the first time have substantial, long-term financing available to carry forward their best ideas. Creative responses to this opportunity will make school-site management with significant teacher and parent participation a real possibility.

Vol. 8, Issue 15, Page 32

Published in Print: December 14, 1988, as Revised Chapter 1 Opens Options for Schoolwide Plans
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