Focus of Title I Shifting From Pullout Efforts

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Fifth graders who gather for a class at Randolph Elementary School here are the picture of the American melting pot. An African-American boy sits across a semicircle from a girl who immigrated from Guatemala. A white boy is next to a Hispanic classmate.

Their differences aside, these children have at least one important thing in common: They are in a special class for students who qualify for educational help from the federal Title I program. That distinction is becoming increasingly rare in districts participating in the $7.7 billion school aid program.

Thomas W. Payzant

Since Congress liberalized rules for creating schoolwide reforms with Title I money in 1994, the number of so-called pullout programs--separate programs for Title I-eligible students--has declined in the more than 50,000 schools that receive Title I aid every year.

Just five years ago, only 3,274 schools took advantage of the schoolwide-program status, which allows them to merge their Title I grants with other money to create a comprehensive approach to serving low-achieving students. Today, that number is more than five times higher, according to U.S. Department of Education estimates.

High-Poverty Needs

Still, advocates including Bobbie Hubbard, the teacher for these 5th graders, and Stanley Pogrow, an associate professor in the University of Arizona education department in Tucson who designed the program Ms. Hubbard uses, say such pullout programs are a vital ingredient in the mix of services needed to help students like the ones gathered here. Their 45-minute lesson was designed to improve the critical-thinking skills they need to improve their reading and math performance.

Phyllis P. McClure

"If you do the same thing and always do it in a classroom mode, you're not going to do anything for kids who don't understand how to understand," Mr. Pogrow, the creator of the Higher Order Thinking Skills programs used at Randolph, nine other Arlington County, Va., schools, and almost 2,000 other schools nationwide, said in an interview.

The goal of Mr. Pogrow's program--called HOTS--is to teach such students thinking skills that they can transfer to reading and writing in their regular classrooms. That purpose differs dramatically from the traditional pullout-class focus on remediation, Mr. Pogrow said.

Even some of the most vociferous advocates of schoolwide reform acknowledge that programs such as HOTS and Reading Recovery--an intensive individual-tutoring program--can be useful in high-poverty schools.

In Boston, where Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant declared in 1995 that all schools would adopt the schoolwide model because they were all eligible to do so, 22 elementary schools now employ Reading Recovery teachers who instruct students outside the regular classroom.

"Sometimes the pullout ... is quite appropriate," said Mary Jean LeTendre, the Education Department's director of compensatory programs. "The issue is more what is appropriate for the child."

Regardless, schoolwide programs remain popular, partly because of the administrative convenience they offer, but also because of the current belief that reforms must reach every corner of the school, especially in poor neighborhoods.

"Eight or nine times out of 10, I'd probably come down on the side of schoolwides," said Mr. Payzant, who lobbied for the expansion of the schoolwide authority when he was the Education Department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education from 1993 until 1995.

"One of the problems with pullouts in schools with high concentration of Title I-eligible students is it's very difficult to serve all children in a pullout, so you have to make some choices of which children to serve," he added. "You need to start with the premise of needing to serve all of those children."

Easing Stringent Rules

For much of its 30-year-plus history, Title I--the largest federal initiative in K-12 education--has suffered a reputation as a counterproductive program. Too often, critics argue, the program takes low-achieving students out of their regular classrooms, isolating them while teaching them separately.

While the students receive remedial help, they miss the lessons from their regular classrooms, according to those critics. And longitudinal research shows that Title I has failed to meets its goal of shrinking the achievement gap between low- and high-achieving students. ("Tracking Title I," Oct. 22, 1997.)

But for many years, administrators complained that stringent federal rules forced them to assign Title I teachers and aides to help only those students who qualified for the program. Pullouts were the easiest way for schools to account for their Title I money.

To discourage the practice, Congress first allowed creation of schoolwide programs in its 1978 revisions of the law. From the start, any school with a poverty rate exceeding 75 percent would qualify for the designation, which allowed use of Title I money to benefit the whole school.

By the 1993-94 school year, 3,274 schools took advantage of the flexibility. Also in 1993, the Clinton administration proposed lowering the requirements so that schools with just half their children living in poverty could undertake schoolwide projects. Congress agreed to the change a year later.

By now, about 17,000 of the 22,000 schools eligible for the schoolwide-project designation have opted for it, Ms. LeTendre estimates.

But those numbers are misleading, according to one consultant who follows the program closely.

"Virtually every one I've seen is schoolwide in name only," said Phyllis P. McClure, a Washington-based consultant who has tracked the program throughout its history. "They are not doing what the law encourages them or allows them to do."

That means long-running programs, such as the HOTS class in Arlington and Reading Recovery in classrooms throughout the country, still exist, even though the 1994 reauthorization gave incentive for local officials to abandon them.

Reading Recovery continues to be used in Boston elementary schools, Mr. Payzant said, because it's a short-term intervention and has proved that students don't get shuffled out of their assigned classrooms for long portions of their school careers.

"It has a very clear time line that doesn't result in a child being pulled out three or four years in a row, as many of the traditional pullouts did," he said.

'Kids as Learners'

Seven years ago at Randolph Elementary, Ms. Hubbard taught the HOTS curriculum in four classes. Now, she has just this one group of 5th graders, who are in the second year of the curriculum.

On a recent Friday, they arrive in the school's technology lab for a 45-minute lesson from a carefully scripted plan that includes reviewing the previous day's reading, learning new words, and discussing strategies for solving problems they will face once they move from the semicircle to nearby computers.

After Ms. Hubbard finishes with the group discussion, she releases students to negotiate a computer simulation of the Oregon Trail. As part of the exercise, the students need to buy ammunition, medicine, food, and other supplies required for travel from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean.

By the end of the class period, several students have reached the goal and are asked to explain the strategies they used to accomplish it. At the next session, they will share their ideas with their classmates.

The students are getting the intensive instruction they need but wouldn't receive in a regular classroom, HOTS supporters say.

"I love this program because of what I see it does for kids as learners," said Sheryl Asen, the administrator who oversees the program for the 18,300-student Arlington County district in northern Virginia. "HOTS arms them with lots of tools for learning that they did not develop on their own."

Mr. Pogrow, the program's designer, argues that the pullout is exactly what the students at Randolph Elementary School need. The rush toward schoolwide programs may leave such students in classrooms where they won't get intensive instruction, he adds.

"The problem with Title I is people have tended to cast policies as either/or," Mr. Pogrow said. Pullout programs and schoolwide initiatives should not be mutually exclusive, he contends.

Ms. LeTendre, the director of the federal program, sees the lines between the two blurring.

Even the Success for All program, probably the most widely used schoolwide program, includes intensive tutoring in reading, she says.

"The picture is not as black and white as it once was," Ms. LeTendre said.

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