Congress Is Pressed To Employ Chapter 1 To 'Equalize' Schools

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Lawmakers should move beyond Chapter 1's current focus on individual remediation and use the program as a tool to force state and local officials to upgrade the quality of schools that educate disadvantaged children, a panel of Chapter 1 experts has urged.

In a particularly bold move, the independent commission of educators, researchers, and child advocates recommends that federal funds be used as leverage to force states to "equalize'' the resources available to school districts.

The commission, formed in 1990 by a group of child advocates, was created to make recommendations on how the Congress can improve the compensatory-education program when it is reauthorized next year.

In a brief, interim report released last week, the panel also recommends:

  • Setting standards for "real-world competencies'' in academic subjects and developing a new assessment system to replace the current use of standardized, norm-referenced tests to measure the achievement of Chapter 1 students.

  • Establishing outcome-based goals and expanding state officials' authority to intervene in schools whose Chapter 1 students do not make adequate gains.

  • Targeting more funds to the schools with the highest concentrations of poor students, but allowing more flexibility within schools and eliminating incentives to limit services to particular children.

  • Allowing schools to use Chapter 1 funds to coordinate the delivery of health and other social services to disadvantaged children.

  • Earmarking Chapter 1 funds for teacher training and the dissemination of effective programs and practices. Such uses are currently allowed, but not mandated.

  • Requiring "comprehensive parent-involvement programs.''

'Subsidizing Inequalities'?

The commission, which includes several nationally known experts on the education of disadvantaged children, receives staff support from the Council of Chief State School Officers and includes two members of the chiefs' professional staff, but is independent of the council.

Panel members, who plan to issue a report next year detailing their recommendations, said they decided to release an interim document in response to intense interest in their deliberations on Capitol Hill and in the education community, as well as to gather feedback.

Members acknowledged that their call for resource equalization is likely to be particularly controversial.

"We are hoping to do it along with other suggestions that might be more appealing,'' said Phyllis McClure, the director of education at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "We think it's time for people, particularly Congress, to realize that the federal government is subsidizing huge inequalities in the states.''

Added the commission's chairman, David W. Hornbeck, a consultant and a former state superintendent of education in Maryland:

"Absent some level of equalization, Chapter 1 funds don't represent a 'value added' at all, but a substitute for what government is already providing for students who by accident of birth happen to live in wealthy subdivisions. States that have substantial inequality defeat the purpose of Chapter 1 before the dollars even get inside state lines.''

Assuring Comparability

In an effort to prevent districts from using Chapter 1 funds to "supplant'' other funding, the law and regulations require districts to demonstrate that Chapter 1 schools receive state and local funds "comparable'' to those spent in schools in the same district that do not receive Chapter 1 money.

But, the interim report contends, "given the inequitable distribution of state and local resources, the current notion that Chapter 1 provides supplemental aid to disadvantaged children added to a level playing field is a fiction.''

The panel "will call upon each state to assure comparability in vital services among all its districts as well as in all schools within each district,'' the report states.

Panel members said they will likely recommend that eligibility for federal funds be made contingent on evidence that a state is moving toward equalization.

"Can I tell you how we're going to do it? No,'' said Cynthia Brown, the director of the chiefs' Resource Center on Educational Equity. "It doesn't necessarily have to be measured in fiscal terms. We could talk about services provided.''

Focus on Neediest Schools

Former Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, a California Democrat who was chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee when he retired in 1991, made waves when he floated a similar proposal in 1990.

Under his proposed "fair chance act,'' states would be required to pass a rigorous test of interdistrict comparability in order to receive federal education aid. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1990.)

Calling on states to ensure equitable resources for schools serving Chapter 1 students meshes with other recommendations in the interim report that focus on improving whole schools rather than on services for individual, low-achieving students.

"The ultimate proof of the pudding is whether individual kids can read, write, and do math,'' Mr. Hornbeck said, "but the strategy is a schoolwide strategy.''

The report recommends that funds be focused on the neediest schools.

In addition, the panel urges, "schoolwide reforms'' should be encouraged instead of programs that "pull out'' low-achieving students for special instruction.

"In return,'' the report states, "schools would be expected to assure that each student in the school receives an education that should result in achieving [high-level] standards.''

The standards would be "enforced'' by states, under plans calling for "graduated steps, with technical and planning assistance to schools that need help.''

"Where assistance does not secure positive change, states will be called upon to assure, through a variety of means, that affected students do not continue to be educated in failing schools,'' the report says. "At the same time, states will be asked to develop systems for affording recognition and increased resources to schools that are successful.''

Assessment Issue Unresolved

In essence, the panel is advocating a broader accountability system based on the same concepts added to Chapter 1 in 1988 through the "program improvement'' provisions.

Those provisions require schools whose students do not meet minimum achievement standards to draft improvement plans and ultimately to accept state intervention.

But observers agree that the 1988 provisions are not working as intended. They say the minimum standards are too low, the rules are not stringent enough, and the program's reliance on standardized tests creates unfortunate, unintended consequences. (See Education Week, March 25, 1992.)

Similarly, the report argues that using such tests "as a standard for program success'' has "operated to thwart the objectives of Chapter 1.''

Panel members left unresolved the issue of what kind of assessments to recommend. But they said that they are interested in performance-based assessment and that schools' progress should be judged by benchmarks other than tests.

They also said they had agreed that Chapter 1 assessment must be tied to the national assessment system that the Bush Administration and the National Governors' Association are working to develop for all students.

"We think it's essential that these higher standards that are emerging apply not only to nonpoor kids,'' Mr. Hornbeck said. "It's imperative that the Chapter 1 reauthorization reflect for low-income students the same attention to high standards that's come to the forefront nationally.''

Vol. 11, Issue 30, Pages 1, 17

Published in Print: April 15, 1992, as Congress Is Pressed To Employ Chapter 1 To 'Equalize' Schools
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