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Bigger Push on Chapter 1 Aid for Early Years Urged

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While backing the overall direction of the Clinton Administration's plan to revamp the Chapter 1 program, some early-childhood experts fear the proposal does not send a strong enough message to schools to invest in early-childhood education, and could even result in decreased funding for early-years programs.

A small but growing share of districts use Chapter 1 remedial-education funds for preschool programs, and most of the aid is used in grades K-6. But some experts say more Chapter 1 aid should be used to provide the comprehensive early-childhood services that can reduce the need for remediation.

As Congress moves toward reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, early-childhood experts are enthusiastic about the Administration's proposals to bolster parental involvement, improve staff training, and strengthen links between Chapter 1 and other education, health, and social-services programs.

Others are encouraged by proposed changes in Chapter 1 assessment, although they warn that more safeguards are needed to insure that states abandon inappropriate testing and tracking of young children. (See Education Week, Dec. 1, 1993.)

But the most pressing concern for early-childhood educators is that the plan does not explicitly encourage targeting more aid at younger children.

"It just doesn't provide the kind of encouragement that data suggest'' is warranted, said Harriet Egertson, the administrator of the office of child development in the Nebraska education department.

Lack of Emphasis?

"I'm sure there's a continuing desire to place emphasis on early childhood within the Education Department, but it's difficult to read the Chapter 1 proposals and see how that fits in,'' said Lawrence Schweinhart, the chairman of research for the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. He said more could be done to provide "leadership'' in promoting earlier interventions.

While they generally support proposals to concentrate Chapter 1 aid on the neediest schools and students, some early-childhood experts worry that the Administration plan could siphon funds away from early-years programs.

The plan would require districts to serve all schools where at least 75 percent of students come from poor families before serving other schools, a rule that could effectively force districts to transfer funds to middle schools and high schools. Administration statements also promote the provision of special services for older Chapter 1 students, such as counseling and mentoring.

"The indirect implication for the early-childhood years could be more competition or thinning of the pool of resources'' for young children, said Tom Schultz, the director of the center on education services for young learners for the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith acknowledged that "there is no explicit new priority for early childhood'' in the Administration's Chapter 1 plan. But he voiced hope that the proposal's emphasis on setting challenging standards will prod districts to target more aid to children in preschool through grade 3.

Enlarging the Pie

Mr. Smith defended the plan to insure that older students in "desperate'' schools are served, but also said "there is a strong hope that we will get enough money so there won't be any real effect on early-childhood programs.''

The "inherent tension'' of such competing priorities "would be resolved by full funding of Chapter 1,'' noted Sharon Lynn Kagan, the associate director of the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University.

Ms. Kagan, however, praised the plan's "laudable'' goal of serving the neediest schools, and also lauded proposals ranging from enhanced training and parent involvement to health screening.

The proposal "seems to be very congruent with the basic principles and approaches we would like to see,'' agreed Barbara A. Willer, the public-affairs director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, noted that while the level of local commitment to early-childhood programs varies, and Congress is unlikely to mandate any shift in the balance, large urban districts have been putting more emphasis on preschool and he "would expect that to continue.''

Observers also noted that early-childhood issues will be addressed more broadly as the Administration gears up to propose a major expansion of Head Start, which is also up for reauthorization next year.

But Ms. Egertson urged that links being forged between Head Start and Chapter 1 be widened to insure that other early-years programs and the overall elementary school curriculum are developmentally appropriate.

She also advised that schools and districts involve early-childhood experts and the "general school governance'' in crafting plans for Chapter 1.

Supporters of Even Start--which blends early-childhood and adult-literacy services--praised proposed improvements in that program, including extending services to teenage parents. But they stressed that Even Start aid should supplement, rather than supplant, existing teenage-parent programs.

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