Tracking Title I

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The idea behind whole-school funding is that disadvantaged students will benefit if the entire school improves.

President Reagan's education team used the Sustaining Effects data to support its plan to merge Title I into a block grant with other education programs and cut the total funding by 25 percent. The program's supporters in Congress went on the defensive, fearing that if they endorsed modifications they would weaken their argument that it should continue.

"The defenders of the program became overly protective and didn't want to make any changes," Mr. Jennings said. "It caused a hardening of positions rather than reaching for solutions."

40,000 Students Studied

In 1981, then, Congress reduced some of the program's mandates--the biggest was the requirement that schools form Title I parent councils--and renamed the program Chapter 1, a name that lasted through 1994, when it switched back to Title I. Within a year, Congress passed so-called technical amendments to that bill that "put the program in effect where it was" before, Mr. Jennings said.

In 1993, nine years after the release of the Sustaining Effects data, Title I advocates received similar bad news in the early returns from the Prospects study.

Prospects, like its predecessor, followed a large sample of children over several years through elementary school. They both tried to determine whether the supplemental lessons from Title I helped low achievers improve their test scores to narrow the gap that existed with high achievers.

A "one-year snapshot" of student achievement in the 40,000-student Prospects study found that "there are essentially no differences in the relative annual gains made by students in low- and high-poverty schools, thus leaving the achievement gap between these students unchanged."

The data did not deter Congress--then still under the control of the Democrats--and President Clinton's education team from reauthorizing the program in 1994 and calling for increased spending.

But Congress decided to change the program's long-term focus on remedial skills and required schools instead to use high standards to guide it. The 1994 overhaul also broadened eligibility for schoolwide projects, making it easy for educators to scrap pullout classes and replace them with programs for upgrading achievement in the whole school. The idea is that disadvantaged students will benefit if the entire school improves.

When the final Prospects data were released earlier this year, they painted the same picture as the preliminary results. Even after juggling the numbers every possible way, researchers could not claim victory.

"After controlling for student, family, and school differences between Chapter 1 participants and nonparticipants, we still find that participants score lower than nonparticipants and that this gap in achievement is not closed over time," the authors wrote.

Like Sustaining Effects, Prospects found that the quality and depth of the programs varied dramatically from school to school. "Chapter 1 was not a uniform program, but a collection of services and practices provided in participating schools using federal resources," the new report said.

In the final Prospects report, researchers said their data could not conclude definitively whether Chapter 1 had helped the students. They only showed that the program failed to decrease the achievement gap between those in the program and high-achieving students.

Conflicting Studies

As in 1984, other researchers found other numbers to declare Title I a success.

A 1993 RAND Corp. study concluded that Title I "achieves modest short-term benefits" and that many Title I programs produce "outstanding results." Because the scores from stellar programs are averaged into laggard ones, the national picture often shows little impact, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank concluded in its review of earlier studies.

In a comprehensive review of 1993 Prospects data, Sustaining Effects, and other significant studies, two University of Chicago graduate students concluded that the program did help the children it served.

"When you look at existing evidence ... compared to similarly disadvantaged kids, those kids who participated in the program tend to perform better than those who did not," said Geoffrey D. Borman, the co-author of an article that presented those conclusions in the Winter 1996 issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Title I is a "funding stream. And it's not plausible to expect a funding stream ... to have an effect on teaching and learning."

David K. Cohen,
University of Michigan

Mr. Borman, who is now an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he will reanalyze the final Prospects data to see whether they can show positive results in spite of the failure to close the achievement gap.

A Closer Look

While Mr. Borman and other researchers reconsider the Prospects data, others are focusing on its companion study.

The Special Strategies study, led by a team at Johns Hopkins, followed student learning in schools using specific programs over the same period as Prospects. It tried to document the impact of various reform models on student test scores. The study compared outside programs--such as the Success for All model and the Comer School Development Program--with locally developed strategies, such as extending the school year and pursuing schoolwide efforts to improve learning.

"What is new in Special Strategies is the strength of evidence that some programs, well implemented, appear to help students make dramatic academic progress," the study concluded.

Among its findings were that "pursuing schoolwide change may well be worth the effort," and that "intensive early intervention may yet be the best bet."

But, the study warned, "after a third of a century of research on school change, we still have not provided adequate human and fiscal resources, appropriately targeted, to make large-scale program improvements a reliably consistent reality in schools serving students placed at risk."

Successful Approaches

The Sustaining Effects, Prospects, and Special Strategies studies clearly showed that Title I is essentially a hodgepodge of whatever local school officials want to do. Some will use their money to run a recognized, national program; others keep running pullout programs with a remedial focus.

Special Strategies found the Success For All and Comer School Development programs to be especially successful. Success for All, developed at Johns Hopkins, puts an intense focus on fostering reading skills at an early age, while the approach created by noted Yale University psychiatrist James P. Comer builds support from the faculty and community for a curriculum that seeks to raise achievement.

One Success for All site, where the school followed the program closely, "produced very large academic gains," and a "less-solid implementation also produced gains, although not as large,'' the Special Strategies study found. Likewise, "where the [Comer] program is well-implemented ... academic results can be impressive." Other innovations, such as ones where a school operated a program of its own design, didn't produce the same kinds of gains.

Such findings "challenge the view inside the Beltway that Title I is a program," said David K. Cohen, a professor of education and public policy at the University of Michigan. "It's a funding stream," he added, and "it's not plausible to expect a funding stream ... to have an effect on teaching and learning."

There is a growing sense of optimism among those who work in the program that the changes Congress made in 1994 and is considering this year will make a difference.

"We finally know we're going in the right direction," said Mary Jean LeTendre, the director of the Title I office at the Education Department.

Title I appeared to have a positive impact for some students over the short term, but it did not help many over the long haul.

The 1994 changes, most say, take away the remedial, pullout focus and spur schools to do things that will create improvements in the whole school, with the disadvantaged students getting a better education because of them.

Further Changes

Congress isn't done tinkering with the program, however. A House bill would set aside $150 million to pay for comprehensive reforms in Title I schools. The amendment specifically suggests the Success for All and Comer models as ones principals should consider. A House-Senate conference committee will decide whether the new money should stay in the final bill.

"Title I and Chapter 1 have never had anything that would give encouragement to schools to invest in proven programs," said Robert E. Slavin, who started Success for All and is a co-director of the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk, based at Johns Hopkins. "This could be the beginning of what Title I could be: fuel for reform rather than paying for pullout programs and aides."

But some researchers and practitioners question the focus on changing the whole school--rather than improving performance of specific students.

"They keep trying to show that these whole-school change models work," said Stanley Pogrow, an associate professor of educational administration at the University of Arizona.

Mr. Pogrow has created a pullout program--a design now out of favor in the program--that teaches high-level skills to students. By giving a specific population the help they need, he argued, schools will get the results they want.

Mr. Slavin and many others in the research and policy worlds disagree.

"Saying the schoolwide change doesn't work is like saying medicine doesn't work," Mr. Slavin said. "Some medicines work. Some medicines don't work. ... The details of [the schoolwide program] are all that matters."

But skeptics have heard such optimism before.

"Parachuting in a reform is not going to work," said Mr. Doyle, the Hudson Institute scholar. "[Mr. Slavin] may have a wonderful reform, but people should be free to adopt or reject it."

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