WASHINGTON--Chapter 1 compensatory education is reaching the children it was intended to serve, contrary to assertions by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, according to a new Congressional staff report.
“The program is properly targeted to high-poverty schools and the lowest-achieving students in those schools,’' said Representative Augustus F. Hawkins of California, chairman of the House subcommittee on elementary, secondary, and vocational education, in releasing the study last week. “So the most disadvantaged are being served.’'
In fiscal 1988 budget documents, the Education Department argued that under Chapter 1, “many children receive services who are neither poor nor educationally deprived. ... Of the Chapter 1 students receiving mathematics instruction, for example, only 40 percent come from poor homes; about 20 percent scored above the 50th percentile.’'
Mr. Hawkins has expressed skepticism about those claims on several occasions, and he recently asked his staff to investigate the issue.
The matter has already generated considerable debate this year during Congressional deliberations on reauthorization of the $3.9-billion aid program. In suggesting changes in current law, Secretary Bennett called for better “targeting of services’’ to children who are both economically and educationally disadvantaged.
But children who are either one or the other--not necessarily both--have always been eligible for aid under the 22-year-old law, Mr. Hawkins and other members of the House panel have argued. They accused Mr. Bennett last month of trying to turn Chapter 1 into a “poverty program’’ and save money by limiting the number of eligible children. (See Education Week, March 18, 1987.)
Two weeks ago, the subcommittee approved a Chapter 1 bill that includes none of Mr. Bennett’s recommendations on targeting or other issues. Action on the measure by the full Education and Labor Committee is scheduled for this week.
According to the staff report, the department’s claims about the poor targeting of Chapter 1 are based on “seriously flawed’’ 1976 data from the so-called “Sustaining Effects Study.’'
More recent research, including the Congressionally mandated National Assessment of Chapter 1 and a telephone survey of 11 states, has yielded different conclusions, the report says. It notes that:
- “In most cases, students entering the Chapter 1 program achieve below the 25th percentile.’' Average reading scores, for example, were at the 16th percentile in Louisiana; the 17th in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington; and the 19th in Minnesota.
- Eighty percent of children who score below the 25th percentile at grade levels served by Chapter 1 are in the program, and the remainder are often served by other special programs, such as bilingual, migrant, and handicapped education.
- Seventy-five percent of Chapter 1 students are in schools where at least 30 percent of children come from low-income families, and 57 percent attend schools where the poverty rate is at least 50 percent.
- Districts receiving Chapter 1 aid “generally select schools with higher populations of poor students ... and provide services to students who are the lowest achievers,’' according to the recent Chapter 1 assessment.
- A General Accounting Office study of school-assignment practices in 1983-84, released earlier this year, found an error rate of less than 3 percent in the selection of children for Chapter 1 reading programs. Also, in the telephone survey, state coordinators reported “a high degree of compliance with proper student-selection procedures.’'
‘Misinformed’ on Issue
Representative Hawkins, citing his staff’s findings, said that “the Secretary seems misinformed about the targeting issue. The real problem in the Chapter 1 program is lack of sufficient resources.’'
According to the staff study, “it would require doubling the funds now available’’ for Chapter 1 to provide services to every child now scoring below the 25th percentile in either reading or mathematics.
Washington State, for example, received $440 per eligible pupil last year, but “the average cost per child of providing Chaper 1 services in the state was $674.’'
“To charge that Chapter 1 is somehow missing the mark because it cannot serve all eligible children,’' the report concludes, “is more an indictment of the level of funding than an indictment of the administration of the program in local school districts.’'
Bruce M. Carnes, deputy undersecretary for budget, planning, and evaluation, said the department had never intended to accuse school districts of poor administration of Chapter 1. Rather, the Administration’s proposals are designed to correct “certain anomalies’’ in the law that create funding inequities about which many school administrators have complained, he said.
“There’s obviously a situation where some very high-poverty places aren’t getting services,’' he added. Because 90 percent of school districts receive Chapter 1 allocations, the funds are thinly spread, and a low-achieving child might receive services in one school, but not in another, he said.
The department has favored a “concentration grant’’ formula more heavily weighted toward poor districts than the formula recently approved by the subcommittee under the bipartisan sponsorship of Mr. Hawkins and Representative William F. Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Carnes added that he had not seen the House staff report, but denied its claim that the department’s conclusions are based on 10-year-old data. Citing a survey from the 1985-86 school year, he said that 57 percent of the “lowest-poverty schools’’ were receiving Chapter 1 services, and 14 percent of the “highest-poverty schools’’ were not.
Also, the average mathematics and reading scores of children entering Chapter 1 programs increased slightly, to the 21st percentile and the 19th percentile, respectively, over the period from 1979-80 to 1984-85, he said.
Mr. Carnes also took issue with some Democrats’ characterization of Chapter 1 as a general-education assistance program.
“The legislative history shows that it was clearly part and parcel of the ‘war on poverty’ strategy,’' he argued. “The formula itself says, push the money toward the poor districts ... because of the correlation between poverty and low achievement.’'
Improving Chapter 1 “is not a question of the amount of money,’' Mr. Carnes maintained. “It’s a question of the mechanism’’ for distributing it to the children who need it most. “There are now high-poverty low-achievers who are falling through the net, and high-income low-achievers who shouldn’t be in there,’' he added.
As part of HR 5, a bill reauthorizing a dozen elementary and secondary programs, the House panel has approved an expansion of Chapter 1 to both preschool and secondary-school students, at an estimated cost of more than $500 million. It has also recommended that the Congress appropriate an additional $500 million, beginning in 1989, to restore Chapter 1 to its 1981 level, adjusted for inflation.
Secretary Bennett has proposed a $200-million increase for the program next year.