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Rule Would Expand Participation in Chapter 1 Activities

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WASHINGTON--Education Department officials are said to be preparing regulations that would allow children ineligible for Chapter 1 services to participate in activities funded by the federal compensatory education program.

A department spokesman said last week that officials of the agency would not comment on the rule, which is undergoing internal review. But Wendy Jo New, an education-program specialist in the Office of Compensatory-Education Programs, previewed the proposal at a November meeting of state Chapter 1 coordinators, according to participants in the session.

"We'll have to wait for the regulations, but the initial reaction was supportive," Diana Whitelaw, Connecticut's state coordinator and the president of the coordinators' national association, said last week.

Ms. Whitelaw and other participants in the meeting said Ms. New told them the upcoming rule would allow "incidental" participation of ineligible school children in a school district could demonstrate that excluding them was "impractical."

Districts would still have to design their programs based on the needs of eligible students and would have to ensure that services to those children were not diminished and that no otherwise eligible child was denied services as a result of the "incidental" participation, Ms. New was said to have told the coordinators. She said the rule would not specify a maximum allowable percentage of ineligible children, according to meeting participants.

The proposal responds to widespread complaints from educators that rules designed to ensure that Chapter 1 funds benefit the neediest students often have unfortunate side effects.

Separate Classrooms

Most significantly, the critics say, such rules are a strong incentive to avoid administrative difficulty by providing extra remedial services to Chapter 1 children in separate classes--a practice that clashes with the findings of most current education research. (See Education Week, May 22, 1990.)

Many educators argue that "pullout" instruction stigmatizes Chapter 1 students, causes them to miss instruction in their regular classes, and frustrates efforts to improve coordination among teachers and congruence between programs.

The Education Department responded to a related complaint last year by publishing a guidance manual that specifically allows schools to use equipment purchased with Chapter 1 funds for other educational purposes as long as such uses do not detract from the compensatory-education program.

Coordinators who attended the November meeting said Ms. New told them the planned new rule was intended to encourage schools to provide remedial services in heterogeneous classes and to allow the use of techniques such as cooperative learning, in which children of differing achievement levels work together.

Federal officials "have had a lot of feedback from school districts, and they've seen the research that shows you shouldn't segment kids into small groups," Ms. Whitelaw said.

"They appear to be doing this for the right reasons," she added. "Where is a serious potential for abuse, but I think we have to take that risk."

In the past, civil-rights and child-advocacy groups have opposed loosening Chapter 1 rules for fear that schools would use the federal money as general aid, rather than for programs to help the disadvantaged pupils who are the intended beneficiaries. Many of the program's rules were written to curb such abuses, which were rampant in its early years.

But representatives from such groups said last week that the change under consideration could be beneficial if the rules were carefully drafted.

'Whole-School Reform'

Paul Weckstein, a lawyer who represents the Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 Parents, said that while the group would work to protect eligible children's access to services, "we are also interested in things like cooperative learning."

"If an aide is walking through the classroom checking kids' work, it might stigmatize the eligible kids if the aide works only with them," added Phyllis McClure, the director of education programs for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "I don't see why the aide can't look at the other kids' work as well." "The focus on individual kids may have been appropriate in the past," Ms. McClure said, "But the focus is now on using Chapter 1 as a federal lever for whole-school reform."

Ms. New was said to have told the state coordinators that the proposed regulations would be published along with revised rules for the separate Chapter 1 program serving institutionalized children.

The Education Department published a Federal Register notice in October 1990 soliciting comments on how that program could be improved.

The agency also plans to propose changes in "maintenance of effort" rules that prevent districts from using Chapter 1 funds to help decrease local expenditures, Ms. New was said to have told the November gathering.

The changes reportedly would exclude from consideration districts' expenditures of aid received under Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, a change that would allow the calculation to more accurately reflect local effort and also make Chapter 1 rules consistent with those for other programs.

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