Chapter 1 Said Reaching Intended Beneficiaries

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Washington--Although the federal Chapter 1 program bypasses some schools with high poverty rates and some students with low achievement levels, it generally reaches the disadvantaged children it was meant to benefit, a new Education Department study concludes.

In the final report of a three-part national assessment of Chapter 1, mandated by the Congress in 1983, an independent research team says that, despite an overhaul of the program's authorizing legislation in 1981, the services it funds and the kinds of students it serves have remained relatively stable since the federal government began financing compensatory education in 1965.

Entitled "The Current Operation of the Chapter 1 Program," the report assesses administrative practices under Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act and compares them to those under the law that preceded it, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The report also summarizes and updates the first two installments of the study, which described the characteristics and performance of Chapter 1 students. (See Education Week, Feb. 11, 1987.)

The first report in the $7.7-million assessment project, based largely on a re-analysis of national data from the 1976 "Sustaining Effects Study" of Title I, sparked controversy by suggesting that the program passed over significant numbers of low-achieving students while serving many who are above average. (See Education Week, June 11, 1986.)

Education Department officials have cited those findings to support proposals for refining the law's funding formula.

The new report, which incorporates more recent--although not "nationally representative"--survey data, says that the aid is properly channeled toward low-achieving students in low-income schools, but that the formula allows for wide variations in the composition of students served across districts.

The fluctuations do not mark a lack of compliance by district officials, who generally adhere closely to the law's selection procedures, the4report says. Instead, they reflect the broad discretion districts have in serving those in "greatest need."

Written by a team in the department's office of educational research and improvement, with field work by outside contractors, the study shows that "the program reaches students the law intended it to reach," said Ron Anson, deputy director of the assessment.

"It mostly targets the schools and students you'd expect," Mr. Anson said.

Targeting Options

Chapter 1 services typically are concentrated in the elementary grades and consist of 30 to 35 minutes per day of basic-skills instruction in reading and mathematics outside the regular classroom. Teachers generally work with eight or fewer students.

Because any district with 10 or more low-income students is eligible for a Chapter 1 grant, 90 percent of the nation's school districts receive funds under the $3.9-billion program. Chapter 1 serves nearly 5 million students and accounts for 20 percent of the Education Department's budget.

Nearly 90 percent of the elementary schools in which at least half the students are poor receive Chapter 1 aid, and, according to the report, those that do not typically "have high poverty rates by national standards, but not by the standards of their own districts."

While districts generally target aid to the lowest achievers, the report says, many students considered low-achievers by national standards do not receive Chapter 1 services because their schools either do not receive the aid, do not serve their grade level, or serve lower-achieving students in their school or grade.

A small share of Chapter 1 students achieve at levels close to or above the national average, according to the report, but most are from districts that have small numbers of low achievers by national standards, set relatively high cutoff points for participation, or lack uniform policies for weighing teachers' judgments in selection decisions.

While these variations in the economic status and achievement levels of Chapter 1 students are within the8law, the report outlines several options the Congress could consider to target more aid to low-income or low-achieving students.

A 'Panoply of Options'

Although the final report, due last January, was only recently submitted to the Congress, Congressional staff members were briefed in advance on its findings and considered some in drafting legislation to reauthorize the ecia

"They did lay out a panoply of options for changing the targeting," said Jack Jennings, counsel for the House Education and Labor Committee. "We chose some. We didn't choose all of them."

For example, both HR 5, the omnibus reauthorization bill passed by the House, and S 373, a companion measure recently drafted by the Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee, would revive "concentration grants" for districts with high poverty rates. But both measures discard such options as raising the number of poor students that qualify a district for Chapter 1 or capping participants' achievement levels.

"We chose to uphold the 20-year history of the program, which does not set a national uniform standard of achievement" for Chapter 1 eligibility, Mr. Jennings said, noting that the law's framers left such decisions to local officials familiar with pupils' needs. Lawmakers have not tampered substantially with the Chapter 1 formula, he said, because "the program is more or less meeting its objective."

The bills incorporate several of the study's suggestions for improving other parts of the program, such as making schools more accountable, encouraging innovation, rewarding successful districts, and easing the financial burden on schools wishing touse Chapter 1 funds for overall school improvement.

In keeping with study findings, both bills would authorize new funds to provide Chapter 1 instruction to private-school students, in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Aguilar v. Felton.

That ruling barred public-school teachers from providing Chapter 1 services on public-school grounds. Private-school students' enrollment in Chapter 1 has dropped by about 28 percent since the Felton decision was handed down in 1985.

Although Chapter 1 administration has not changed significantly since the law was remodeled in 1981, the report says, there are now fewer parent advisory councils and there is less reporting on the "comparability" of state and local support for Chapter 1 and non-Chapter 1 schools. Federal and state monitoring also have declined, it says, but local administrators "continue to devote substantial effort to ensuring compliance."

Vol. 07, Issue 04

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