Critics Worry Title I Rule Pits Public, Private Schools
In final regulations for the Title I compensatory-education program, which were published last week, the Education Department retained a provision that critics say could make more private school students eligible for services--at public schools' expense. But department officials promised a "concerted effort" to insure that the provision, intended as a one-year-only allocation method of last resort, is not used.
The final rules--which appeared in the July 3 Federal Register and are to go into effect Aug. 2--will also allow states to use assessments in such areas as social studies and science to measure student performance.
That change represents an effort to find middle ground in an ongoing debate over how to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of Title I students.
Those were the most significant changes made to the proposed regulations that were published May 1. (See Education Week, 5/10/95.)
Determining private school students' eligibility has proved a thorny problem for many districts under the new Title I law, which was enacted as part of Congress's reauthorization last year of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (See Education Week, 6/21/95.)
In the past, public schools qualified for funding based on their poverty levels and student achievement, with low-achieving students targeted for participation. Low-achieving private school students qualified for services if they lived in the attendance area of a participating public school.
Beginning in the coming school year, districts are to base allocations strictly on counts of poor children attending public and private schools. Low-achieving private school students are eligible if they are poor enough to be counted for that purpose and live in a public school attendance area receiving services.
If possible, the law and regulations require districts to count private school children using the same poverty data that are used to count public school children
But many districts use eligibility for subsidized school lunches for that purpose, and relatively few private schools participate in that program. Therefore, the rules allow the use of "comparable data," such as eligibility for scholarship programs or welfare, or income data collected in surveys.
The controversial regulation provides that if sufficient data cannot be collected for the 1995-96 school year, the district must estimate the number of poor private school students by assuming that the poverty rate of private school students is the same as that for public school children in the same attendance area.
The Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts, has led a group of 10 education organizations in protesting the rule, which they say would grossly overestimate the number of eligible private school children.
"I don't think any concept of presumed proportionality is acceptable in any year," said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the council. "I continue to be outraged."
But the procedure may never be used. Mary Jean LeTendre, the Education Department's director of compensatory-education programs, said that federal officials are advising districts to submit preliminary funding estimates based on data now available and to revise their applications in the fall. Officials are also working to inform educators of the various ways adequate data on private school students can be collected.
"We'll make a very, very concerted effort to ask states to work with locals and ask locals to work with private school officials so that they can use information that is real," Ms. LeTendre said.
Indeed, local Title I coordinators who were interviewed said that they either had data in hand or were on their way to collecting it.
In New York City, for example, educators had been concerned that they would be forced to apply the "proportionality" method. But Michele Nowasad, the executive director of funded and external programs for the city's schools, said the district "has several surveys out" and expects to have the required data by fall.
A related issue has arisen in some districts, where private school officials and contractors providing Title I services in private schools are arguing that allocations should be based on counts of all students in public and private schools, even those who attend private schools not participating in Title I.
Because the new law offers districts the option of pooling funds for private school students districtwide rather than providing services to students in specific schools, this could increase private schools' share of the pie.
Ms. LeTendre said that districts cannot reasonably be expected to collect data on students in nonparticipating schools, as those schools are unlikely to cooperate in administering surveys that many parents view as an invasion of privacy.
The "pooling" option was intended to address situations in which small numbers of eligible private school students are scattered across a district, "not to include kids you never expected to serve anyway," Ms. LeTendre said.
But she noted that federal officials have not yet adopted a formal policy on this issue, something she said would be necessary because nonparticipating private schools in some areas might agree to provide data on their students.
The final rules on student assessment may ultimately have a greater impact.
Title I programs usually focus on reading and mathematics, and the E.S.E.A. requires states to set content and performance standards for participating students in at least those subjects. States are required to include Title I students in other state assessments, but they are not required to use them for accountability purposes.
This provision is important, as schools and districts where students do not show "adequate yearly progress," as defined by each state, would be subject to sanctions.
But some educators have argued that the provision undermines the law's requirement that schools hold Title I students to the same high standards as other students.
As a compromise, the new regulations allow states to use assessments in other subjects "that measure performance in mathematics and reading/language arts." Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith said that a science assessment could be used, for example, if it covers mathematics.
"You have to think about what the states have in place," Mr. Smith said. "It's a potentially more realistic requirement."
Dianne Piche, a counsel to the Title I Reform Network, a new child-advocacy group, argued that not requiring states that have crafted standards and assessments in other subjects to use them for accountability "reinforces the notion of Title I as a remedial math and reading program."
But Mr. Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools said that using tests in subject areas Title I does not teach for accountability purposes would be "just setting the program up for failure."
Janet Carroll, the coordinator of Title I in Rhode Island and the president of the National Association of State Chapter 1 Coordinators, said the rule recognizes that some states are striving to create "core competencies" that may not fit neatly into subject areas.
Another change in the new rules gives districts more flexibility in deciding where to put their Title I funds.
Districts are required to serve all schools with poverty rates of at least 75 percent. Schools below that level must be served in rank order, and only schools with poverty rates at least as high as the district average are eligible. But districts can also choose to serve only certain grade levels.
The regulations issued last week allow districts to declare a school eligible if its poverty rate for the grade span being served exceeds the district average for those grades.
Ms. Carroll said the change could dilute the Clinton Administration's effort to concentrate Title I funds on the poorest schools.
But Mr. Smith said the rule merely recognizes that focusing on one age group is a legitimate strategy.