Title I Turns 20: A Commemoration and Debate

By Lynn Olson — May 01, 1985 14 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Twenty years ago last month, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the first major program of federal aid to education--the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965--and ushered in what many who supported the initiative hoped would be a new era.

The act, with its $1-billion compensatory-education program, Title I, marked the entry of the federal government into an arena that until then had been controlled almost exclusively by states and localities. It also served to underline the then-prevalent belief that education was the one sure road out of poverty.

The mammoth bill swept through the Congress in only three months--so rapidly, in fact, that some Republican Congressmen would later refer to it as the “railroad bill of 1965.”

In an unprecedented step, the Senate approved the measure without a single amendment.

By the middle of the 1965-66 school year, funds were already flowing to local school districts across America.

Last week, those who fashioned and secured passage of the bill and others who have nurtured and developed its programs met at the Capitol to relive the past two decades and look toward the future of what remains the largest of all federal spending programs in precollegiate education.

At a Tuesday night banquet in the Senate Caucus Room, and at a seminar the following day during which some 30 panelists explored the act’s impact, two themes emerged: The landmark bill, by its emphasis on the federal role and on the needs of the disadvantaged, changed the face of American education; yet the funding and scope originally envisioned for the program were never realized, and what emerged was a leaner, more targeted program--with a record of measurable achievement.

‘Equal Partner’ Foreseen

At the time of its passage, many members of Congress saw the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as the first step along a path that would make the federal government an “equal partner” in the education of the nation’s children. They hoped that within a few years, school systems would have incorporated the notion of remedial or compensatory education into their regular curriculum and that an increasing amount of federal money could be used to provide general financial aid to help all students.

Twenty years later, the compensatory-education program known as Title I, now Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981, serves some 4.7 million children. It has survived attacks by critics and defenders alike, undergone eight sets of amendments, and surmounted its near dissolution in the first year of the Reagan Administration.

But the $3.7-billion funding for the program is in constant dollars only equivalent to the $1 billion spent in 1966, said participants in last week’s gathering. And some 45 percent of the 11 million children eligible for Title I services remain unserved.

A ‘Political Event’

According to Samuel Halperin, a senior fellow with the Institute for Educational Leadership, the passage of the esea was “first and foremost a political event.”

In the 20 years preceding the act’s passage, he said, the Congress had repeatedly tried to fashion a federal role in education. But obstacles of race and religion, the fear of federal control, and the grip of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, united each time to defeat those efforts.

Lyndon B. Johnson would make education the centerpiece of his War on Poverty. Yet he had been the original sponsor of only one education bill during his entire time in the Congress.

Sixty-nine freshmen Democratic representatives were elected in 1964, 60 of whom were voted in on President Johnson’s coattails. They would help tip the balance of political power that had kept an education bill from becoming a reality.

Speedy Enactment

The bill that the Johnson Administration proposed was introduced in the House on Jan. 12. It was such a delicately balanced bill that strategists decided to rush it through the Congress for fear that if it slowed down, “what was proposed might unravel,” said John F. Jennings, counsel for education for the House Education and Labor Committee.

Hearings began in the House Education and Labor Committee, then headed by the late Representative Carl D. Perkins, a Kentucky Democrat, on Jan. 22. By April 9, the bill had passed both houses of the Congress.

Two days later, President Johnson signed it in a one-room schoolhouse in his hometown in Texas and pronounced education “the only valid passport from poverty.”

Funds and Prosperity

At the time, the country was experiencing unparalleled prosperity. There was so much money in the U.S. Treasury that economists were worried it would create a “fiscal drag” upon the nation. Taxes had been reduced twice under President John F. Kennedy and again in 1964, said Mr. Halperin.

When they proposed to spend $8 billion on compensatory education during the program’s first few years, the bill’s first supporters in the U.S. Office of Education were told by federal budget officers that that sum was too small.

‘Broadest Imaginable’

Title I was the “broadest type of categorical assistance imaginable,” according to Mr. Halperin.

In fact, it was so broad, said Albert L. Alford, a member of the federal education department’s staff from 1960 to 1985, that even after it was passed some members of the Congress still thought they had voted for a program of general aid to education.

In retrospect, he added, that broadness would give rise to some of the program’s later problems. The original law was only 10 pages in length, he said. In subsequent years, it would grow to more than 40. President Johnson likened the act to a Model T Ford that was destined for change.

At the time, few models of compensatory education existed, and states “really didn’t know what to do with the money,” said Representative William F. Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking Republican member on the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education.

Because no one knew what programs would work best, states and local districts were given broad authority to experiment, said Mr. Alford, in the hope that things would “sort themselves out” over time.

Initially, no state plan for administering the funds was required. Schools received the money after the school year had already started and had little time for planning. Before the federal regulations on the pro-gram were out, suppliers had already sold to local school systems a score of instructional approaches and materials.

Early Abuses

Title I funds were supposed to go to those schools located in the poorest areas of each district; they were to be used to supplement rather than to supplant state and local efforts; and they were to focus on the most academically needy children within those schools.

But early studies of the program, such as Title I of esea: Is It Helping Poor Children?, by the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy and the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., found that funds were being used to replace state and local expenditures; to meet general school needs and finance systemwide programs; to buy books and supplies for all schoolchildren--not just the disadvantaged; to pay general overhead and operating expenses; to meet new teacher contracts that called for higher salaries; to build school swimming pools; and to refurbish superintendents’ offices with “paneling, wall-to-wall carpeting, and color television.”

Federal audits confirmed the “extensive use of the program to buy things rather than to provide services,” according to John F. Hughes, director of the division of compensatory education for the U.S. Office of Education from 1965 to 1969. Even in the most cooperative districts, it was hard to get officials to use the funds to create new specialized programs rather than to provide their regular services more intensively, he said.

Such early weaknesses, which were later curbed through repeated amendments to the program, gave Title I an “early blemish that was difficult to erase,” Mr. Hughes said.

War and Change

Original expectations for funding far exceeded what was ever to be provided, said Mr. Jennings. By 1967, only one year after the program’s funding appeared to be potentially limitless, the financial drain of the expanding war in Vietnam was beginning to be felt. As it became clear that funding would not grow substantially, the program evolved, he said, into something different from what its founders may have intended.

Those changes, which made Title I an increasingly narrow categorical program of compensatory aid to a targeted population of children, were accelerated by the Nixon Administration’s contention that the program had not achieved educational gains for its students.

Today, according to Mr. Jennings, there is little disagreement that better targeting of Title I has led to an increase in basic skills among disadvantaged youngsters.

The Sustaining Effects of Compensatory Education on the Basic Skills, a study conducted for the Education Department in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, found that Title I students in grades 1 to 6 in mathematics and in grades 1 to 3 in reading progressed over the course of a school year more than would be expected for them without the program. Moreover, Title I effects were found to persist over the next summer and school year, even after services had ended.

Archie Lapointe, executive director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, said that while naep data alone cannot establish cause-and-effect relationships, the improved reading scores between 1970 and 1980 of 9- and 13-year-old black children, children from disadvantaged urban and rural schools, and 9- and 13-year-olds in the South could be attributed at least in part to Title I.

The Critics’ View

Others have been less complimentary. In a recent article in the monthly journal Phi Delta Kappan, Arthur R. Jensen, professor of educational psychology in the School of Education, University of California-Berkeley, wrote that “compensatory education has made its least impressive impact on just those variables that it was originally intended (and expected) to improve the most: namely, I.Q. and scholastic achievement. The plain truth is that compensatory programs have not resulted in any appreciable, durable gains in I.Q. or scholastic achievement for those youngsters who have taken part in them.”

Similarly, Carl F. Kaestle and Marshall S. Smith, professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in the November 1982 issue of the Harvard Educational Review that the recent trend in positive achievement results from the program is “at best only relatively promising.’'

The two authors concluded that the very characteristics of Title I that have kept federal funding alive may have weakened the program.

Provisions that restricted the use of Title I aid to activities not covered by state and local funds, they wrote, have led to an organizational structure that is separate from the regular school system, with separately hired personnel; separate ‘pull out” classes for students; and separate administrative systems.

“By maintaining an independence from the core programs of the school, the Title I effort insured that its influence and effects were marginal,” they argued. “After almost two decades of intervention, the Title I program stands primarily as a symbol of national concern for the poor rather than as a viable response to their needs.”

Impact Beyond Scores

Participants at the Title I celebration not only contested that assertion but argued that Title I has had positive results beyond improved student test scores.

Paul Hill, director of the Washington office of the Rand Corporation and of the study of Title I conducted by the National Institute of Education in 1974 to 1977, argued that only a minority of members of Congress saw improved student achievement as the “ultimate” goal of the program in the 1970’s.

Title I has also been, he said, an extremely successful instrument for the reallocation of educational funds, and the most “redistributive” of all federal education programs.

Title I “put the learning problems of disadvantaged children on the national agenda,” and “set the stage for a new era of leadership by state educational agencies,” asserted Gordon M. Ambach, commissioner of education in New York State and president of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“Building on the models provided by Title I, some 20 states have adjusted their aid formulas, or are in the process of doing so, to take into account the needs of economically and educationally disadvantaged students,” he said.

The program was a major breakthrough, Mr. Ambach concluded, in building a recognition “that it was absolutely essential to provide additional funding for some children to ensure equity for all children,"--a belief that had not previously been reflected in state funding formulas.

Leverage for Change

Phyllis McClure of the naacp Legal Defense Fund noted that the program has also provided leverage to correct problems of intra-district disparities in funding.

Many other participants concurred that the “child-benefit theory” developed under the program, which allowed Title I materials and services to flow to individual disadvantaged students in private and parochial schools, remains one of the most stable and successful public-private school partnerships.

In addition, Title I set the precedent for the development of later federal programs for handicapped students, migrant children, Indians, and delinquent youngsters, participants said.

Problems Seen Persisting

“The danger at the moment,” said Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States, “is that we will temporarily lose our collective focus on the urgent task of improving the life chances of those who need our efforts most.”

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 790,000 fewer children were served by the Title I/Chapter 1 program in 1982-83 than in 1979-80, a decrease of 15 percent, as a result of federal budget cuts during that period.

Yet there has been no parallel decrease in need, participants said. Harold Hodgkinson, senior fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, said increased poverty among young children means that “we can expect a larger number of young people who will be in need of compensatory education in the future.”

According to Augustus F. Hawkins, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, the number of children living in poverty increased by some 3.3 million between 1980 and 1983.

Other changes in the demography of poverty and in the make-up of the student population will also have to be taken into account in compensaHodgkinson. “Every American big-city school system,” he said, “has a minority majority in its student body.”

“Most of our big cities continue to suffer achievement problems that for the most part are unique nationally and that the Chapter 1 program has not been able to address sufficiently,” said Michael Casserly, legislative and research associate for the Council of the Great City Schools.

Meanwhile, longstanding rural needs for Chapter 1 services have also increased, said William E. Mellown, deputy superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education.

Secondary-School Needs

In addition, according to Jack Baptista, Chapter 1 director of the Massachusetts State Department of Education, Title I/Chapter 1 has traditionally failed to provide adequately for the compensatory-education needs of secondary-school students. Over two-thirds of the programs’ participants are in elementary school, and only 5 percent are in grades 10 to 12, he said.

The lack of compensatory services for high-school students, Mr. Hodgkinson contended, has also led to increased dropout rates as high-school standards rise.

Other seminar participants noted that under Chapter 1, decreased requirements for parental involvement, for monitoring and evaluating compensatory-education programs, and for ensuring that state and local governments spread wealth equitably among schools within a district, are already starting to lead to problems in accountability and parental participation.

New ‘Cynicism’

In addition, said Patrick Proctor, coordinator of the school-development unit in the Connecticut Department of Education, the current school-reform movement reflects a “not-so-subtle cynicism that suggests we’ve overspent our resources on high-need children.”

But Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprises, suggested that the nation has spent those resources inefficiently. The 25-fold increase in federal money to address the needs of the poor in the past 20 years has not led to a 25-fold improvement in their condition, he contended.

He proposed that a portion of Chapter 1 funds be used to provide vouchers for parents to choose schools for their children.

Despite praise for Chapter 1 from Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and Vice-President George Bush, who spoke at last Tuesday’s banquet, seminar participants warned that the Administration’s proposal to freeze Chapter 1 funding for fiscal 1986 would eliminate many more children from the program. And its plan to turn the program into a voucher system, they said, could threaten its longterm survival.

Representative Hawkins concluded, however, that he was “confident that there’s a tremendous constituency that believes rather thoroughly in Chapter 1.”

While acknowledging the program’s early problems, he said it has “demonstrated its vitality” over the years. If educational achievement is in fact declining among American students, he said, “then Chapter 1, which is certainly one of the most basic and most viable programs in this field, is much more important than ever before.”

Later this month, Education Week will look at the 20th anniversary of Project Head Start.

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1985 edition of Education Week as Title I Turns 20: A Commemoration and Debate


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: April 17, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 20, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 13, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: February 21, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read