Civil rights advocates charged in a strongly worded report last week that the Clinton administration has failed to enforce key provisions of the largest federal K-12 program by allowing states and districts to set lower expectations for their disadvantaged students.
"[T]he Clinton administration, once a prime advocate of standards-based reform, has since had a massive failure of will and nerve,” the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights contends in “Title I in Midstream: The Fight To Improve Schools for Poor Kids.”
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|For a single free copy of either report by the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, call Khara Minter at (202) 659-5565. The National Research Council’s report is available for $29.95 by calling the National Academy Press at (800) 624-6242. It will also be made available electronically at www.nap.edu.|
The report examines the implementation of changes ordered by Congress in 1994 to the $8 billion Title I program, which provides federal aid to schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students. The changes--part of the congressional reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that year--required states and districts to set up systems of standards, aligned assessments, and accountability for all schools and students.
With another ESEA reauthorization now under way, the report has a timely theme. And William L. Taylor, the vice chairman of the privately organized group, emphasized at a Sept. 13 press briefing here that the 1994 reforms should not be undermined as Congress begins its reauthorization work this year.
“The standards-based reforms that were adopted by Congress in 1994 can be made to work,” said Mr. Taylor, a prominent school desegregation lawyer based in Washington.
The report, the first in a series the advocacy group is preparing on Title I implementation, focuses on what the commission describes as the “extent to which policies and enforcement practices of the Department of Education have fulfilled--or, in some cases, thwarted--the promise of the new law with respect to our poorest children.”
The group outlines examples of where it believes the Education Department has strayed from the ESEA’s intent, such as not requiring each state to establish a single set of high standards for all of its students and failing to insist that states set high standards in subjects beyond reading and mathematics.
But Judith Johnson, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the Department of Education, said the administration has demonstrated a commitment to standards-based reform and high expectations for all students. She noted that 48 states have developed content standards in subjects beyond reading and math.
In an interview, she said the report underestimates the challenge of making standards-based reform a reality. “We have worked deliberately in the last five years to translate that policy into practice,” she said. “People need to understand that doesn’t happen overnight.”
John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy and a former education aide to House Democrats, said that the political makeover after the 1994 elections--when Republicans took control of Congress--made it hard for the Education Department to enforce the law stringently because of the Republicans’ attacks on the department and its programs. But he cautioned that some of the commission’s charges were open to debate.
The report does offer some praise for the Clinton administration--particularly its commitment to targeting Title I resources to schools with the greatest needs. And it highlights efforts by certain states, such as Texas, and school districts, including Memphis and Philadelphia, in implementing standards-based reforms.
The commission also released a report specifically on one state. “Title I in Alabama: The Struggle To Meet Basic Needs” has accolades for a few high-poverty schools there, but also criticizes Alabama for failing to adequately finance its public schools and include all children in the accountability system it adopted in 1995.
Separately last week, the nonprofit National Research Council, with funding from foundations and the Education Department, unveiled a report of its own on Title I, “Testing, Teaching, and Learning: A Guide for States and School Districts.” The NRC report is designed to serve as a practical guide for states and districts to use in setting up the systems of standards, assessment, and accountability required under the Title I law.