Proposed Chapter 1 Rules Spark Unusually Keen Interest
Washington--The Education Department has received an unusually heavy response to its proposed Chapter 1 regulations, with new standards for evaluating local programs and identifying schools that must implement "program-improvement" measures drawing the keenest interest.
The regulations will implement changes in the compensatory-education program made as part of the omnibus reauthorization law enacted last spring.
But a review of the more than 500 comments received shows that one of the most divisive debates during the legislation's drafting has yet to be adequately resolved for some. At issue is the amount of control state education agencies will be given over local programs.
Organizations representing teachers, administrators, and school-board members had protested the bill's provisions giving state agencies the authority to intervene in Chapter 1 programs that do not produce sufficient gains in student achievement.
The provisions were supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers and civil-rights advocates.
The bill's final version struck a compromise between the "takeover" notion advanced by some and no state intervention. It limited states' power to assessing local programs, aiding in the development of improvement plans, and providing technical assistance when a district's program-improvement efforts fail to produce results in one year.
But members of the coalition that opposed the original draft bill are also opposing several portions of the proposed regulations. In a joint letter, they argued that the suggested rules would "result in unwarranted and harmful expansions of the role of states in local compensatory-education programs."
The regulations would allow, but not require, states to set minimum standards by which Chapter 1 programs would be measured, and to mandate the evaluation of participating students' achievement in subject areas--such as history, writing, and science--that extend be8yond Chapter 1 instruction per se.
Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the ccsso, argued in his response that setting minimum standards is "an inherent state responsibility" under any program that requires state agencies to review local applications.
He also said it is important to allow states seeking to determine Chapter 1's impact on student achievement to require testing in academic subjects.
Paul Weckstein and Lucy Watkins, lawyers at the Center for Law and Education, which represents the National Coalition of Title 1/ Chapter 1 Parents, also supported the two provisions, which they called "critical for assuring improvement in the education of Chapter 1 children."
But the opposing organizations--which include most of the national groups in the field--argued that the proposed rules are not authorized by the law, are unnecessarily burdensome, and allow states to set standards that should be determined locally. The rules could cause states to set "arbitrary" minimum testel10lscores, they said.
Representatives Augustus F. Hawkins of California and William F. Goodling of Pennsylvania, chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, of the House Education and Labor Committee, implied a partial agreement with this position in their joint letter to the department.
They asked ed officials "to give an explanation of the legislative authority for the provision permitting state minimum standards of performance."
The Congress intended, their letter said, that states convene committees representing interested parties to review all proposed state Chapter 1 rules--not just emergency rules, as provided in the proposed regulations. The ccsso was alone in supporting the department's decision in this area, while many organizations expressed opposition.
Many commenters criticized the proposed evaluation processes for reasons other than their effect on the state-local power balance.
The statute requires school districts to assess Chapter 1 programs annually based on "desired outcomes for eligible children," set locally in terms of "skills all students are expected to master." It also requires an assessment every three years based on national standards to be set by the Education Department.
Districts are required to draft improvement plans for schools that do not show "substantial progress" toward their stated goals in an annual review, or which show no improvement or a decline for one full school year when assessed under the national standards.
The proposed regulations specify that "no improvement or a decline" is found to occur if Chapter 1 students "fail to make gains beyond that which they would be expected to make in the absence of the additional help the program provided."
The "national standards" set by the regulations would require use of norm-referenced tests or their equivalent and would require testing on a fall-to-fall or spring-to-spring basis.
Several of those submitting comments questioned how local officials would be able to determine the progress that students would have made without Chapter 1.
Mr. Weckstein and Ms. Watkins argued that the only permissible standard for local assessment should be whether Chapter 1 students have closed the gap in achievement that separates them from students ineligible for the program. "Substantial progress," they said, should be defined as enough progress made by at least 75 percent of Chapter 1 students to close that gap in a three-year cycle.
The lawyers and several state officials argued that despite its statutory origin, the "no improvement or a decline" standard is too low.
Mr. Weckstein and Ms. Watkins were also joined by some state officials in arguing that regulations allowing districts to take certain "local conditions" into account in assessing programs would contravene the statute's intent by setting different, lower standards--and hence lower expectations--for Chapter 1 students.
But several teachers wrote that it is unrealistic to expect all Chapter 1 programs to show spectacular results when it can be a victory just to prevent declines in achievement by the most severely disadvantaged students. Some of these letters included stories of child abuse, deprivation, and substandard teaching conditions.
"When you have 57 students, it is hard to find a day when all of them have had a good breakfast, or one of them hasn't been told that Mom and Dad are getting a divorce, or that the dog didn't get run over, or that their classroom was only 55 degrees because the boiler in the old part of the building wasn't working," wrote Alicia Fricke, a teacher at the Riley School in Great Bend, Kan.
Many teachers, as well as both major teachers' unions, also said the regulations rely too much on standardized tests. Assessments by teachers would provide a more accurate and valuable barometer, they argued.
In their letter, Mr. Weckstein and Ms. Watkins said that standardized tests would not adequately measure what they believe Chapter 1's goals should be: acquisition of the specific skills expected of all students.
Several letter writers said that the department was requiring the wrong kind of test. Norm-referenced tests are designed to produce a curve, they noted, with half of all test takers falling "below average," even if all may have mastered a basic skill level.
A few of those commenting supported the proposed annual reporting cycle, saying that it would yield more valid results.
But the largest single group of individual commenters was made up of local teachers and administrators who argued that they should be allowed to report test results on a fall-to-spring basis.
They contended that it would be administratively difficult to compare test scores at different grade levels; that many students move over the summer, making it impossible for schools to collect comparative scores on an annual basis; and that it is unfair to hold the Chapter 1 program responsible for summer experiences that contribute to lack of retention.
Most of the education organizations urged the department to allow districts to choose the testing cycle that suits them.
Other comments focused on:
Private schools. Representa4tives from both private schools and public-school districts asked department officials to specify that the law's requirement of "equal" services for private-school students could be met by mutually agreeable plans that provide services different from those provided public-school students.
The statute includes a grant program designed to help districts whose services to private-school students were disrupted by the Supreme Court's ruling in Aguilar v. Felton that publicly paid teachers may not provide Chapter 1 instruction in private religious schools.
In the responses, private-school advocates asked the department to give priority to districts seeking to expand services, rather than those seeking to recoup expenditures made in re8sponse to the court ruling. Representatives Hawkins and Goodling have backed that interpretation.
Parental involvement. The lawyers for the Chapter 1 parents' group urged that officials be required to aggressively publicize parents' statutory rights to participate in planning and review processes, and to receive certain assessment information.
Organizations representing teachers and local officials said that new rules allowing other people to act in parents' stead could cause confusion over who is responsible for a student. They asked that the rules be amended to require parents to designate such individuals in writing and to allow school officials to reject the designations under some circumstances.
Negotiated rulemaking. Many commenters praised the department for its handling of a new negotiations process in which interested parties tried to reach consensus on some issues before the actual drafting of the regulations. The negotiated rulemaking was an experiment the department was required by law to try.
But Mr. Weckstein and Ms. Watkins complained that parent representatives in the negotiations were severely outnumbered by education professionals and thus their opinions were automatically relegated to minority status.
Accounting procedures. The ccsso and the National Governors' Association protested rules requiring states in most cases to use procedures contained in the Education Department General Administrative Regulations, which previously were not applied to Chapter 1.