How can schools and districts use federal money intended for at-risk and needy students to improve general learning conditions? The U.S. Department of Education has some suggestions.
Last month, the department released “Supporting School Reform by Leveraging Federal Funds in a Schoolwide Program.” It specifies how schools can use federal money to drive comprehensive turnaround efforts and help all of their students, regardless of whether those children are identified as Title I (or disadvantaged) students.
Which schools can operate schoolwide programs using federal aid for disadvantaged students? These include schools in which at least 40 percent of students are in poverty, schools that receive a waiver from that 40-percent threshold, and certain schools that received waivers under the School Improvement Grant program. As we wrote not long after ESSA passed, a much larger number of schools could potentially qualify for the second category under the new law. And the guidance also hits on a common message about ESSA: that it’s supposed to help schools move away from a narrow focus on a few subjects.
“The new law allows SEAs and LEAs the opportunity to broaden their definitions of educational excellence, while maintaining critical civil rights for all students,” the guidance states. “Additionally, the ESSA includes provisions designed to enable SEAs and LEAs to focus on providing students the diverse, integrated curriculum and learning experiences necessary for a well-rounded education.”
After conducting a study to find out the needs of failing or at-risk students, the guidance highlights a few possible examples of schoolwide programs that can be paid for with Title I money (and that can become part of a new improvement plan or added to an existing one). Some of these possible strategies, which must be evaluated annually, include:
- “High-quality preschool or full-day kindergarten and services to facilitate the transition from early learning to elementary education programs.”
- “Counseling, school-based mental health programs, mentoring services, and other strategies to improve students’ nonacademic skills.”
- “School climate interventions (e.g., anti-bullying strategies, positive behavior interventions and supports).”
- “Equipment, materials, and training needed to compile and analyze student achievement data to monitor progress, alert the school to struggling students, and drive decision making.”
- “Devices and software for students to access digital learning materials and collaborate with peers, and related training for educators (including accessible devices and software needed by students with disabilities).”
- “Two-generation approaches that consider the needs of both vulnerable children and parents, together, in the design and delivery of services and programs to support improved economic, educational, health, safety, and other outcomes that address the issues of intergenerational poverty.”
In several respects, the guidance is similar to the guidance on schoolwide Title I-funded programs issued last year by the Education Department.
Both the 2015 and 2016 versions of the guidance do some myth-busting—they make clear, for example, that Title I money used for schoolwide programs don’t just have to be used on reading and math instruction, and that Title I aid can be used for children in preschool.
And if you’ve made it this far, check our recent “Moving the Needle” special report on school improvement strategies in the age of ESSA, including one in which we examine how states and districts are trying to find new flexibility when it comes to spending federal dollars.
Read the entire 2016 guidance document below:
Follow us on Twitter at @PoliticsK12.