Federal Explainer

Title I

By Education Week Staff — September 21, 2004 8 min read

When most people refer to Title I, they are actually talking about Title I, Part A of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Part A, Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged Program, is one of the most well known parts of federal education law. With $12.3 billion in federal funds authorized for fiscal year 2004, it is the largest federal education program for elementary and secondary schools. Title I funds are targeted to high-poverty schools and districts and used to provide educational services to students who are educationally disadvantaged or at risk of failing to meet state standards.

In some form, Title I has existed since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), when the federal government first began to authorize formula grants to states and districts for the education of elementary and secondary students with low academic achievement who are enrolled in schools serving low-income areas.

The program is designed to accomplish four primary goals:

  • provide supplementary education to students eligible for services;
  • provide additional funding to schools and districts serving high concentrations of children from low-income families;
  • focus educators on the needs of special student populations; and
  • improve the academic achievement of eligible students, reduce performance gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, and assist eligible students in meeting high academic standards (Riddle, 1996).

In addition to providing funds for high-poverty schools, Title I, Part A is the federal government’s primary instrument for holding states, districts, and schools accountable for implementing standards-based education. Among other things, Title I, Part A requires states to:

  • have academic standards for all public elementary and secondary school students;
  • test students in English and math every year between grades 3 and 8 and once in high school;
  • report on student achievement by average school performance, as well as by the performance of specified subgroups;
  • ensure that all students are academically proficient by the spring of 2014; and
  • hold districts and schools accountable for demonstrating adequate yearly progress in student achievement.

Schools that receive Title I funds may operate a targeted assistance program or a schoolwide program, although schools must have a child poverty rate of at least 40 percent to choose to operate a schoolwide program.

A targeted-assistance school must focus its services on children identified as “failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the state’s challenging student academic standards.”

In a schoolwide program, most federal, state, and local funds are consolidated to upgrade the entire education program of the school. In schools operating such a program, Title I is no longer a distinct program but is to be integrated into the regular educational program of the school. Schoolwide programs are not required to identify eligible students for targeted Title I services, but the law requires schools to address the needs of low-achieving students and those at risk of not meeting the state standards who are members of the target population of any program that is included in the schoolwide program.

Under Title I, districts must annually review the progress of schools receiving Title I funds. If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years, the school must be identified for school improvement, which triggers a set of activities ranging from notifying parents to planning for improvement. Sanctions increase for each additional year that the school fails to demonstrate adequate yearly progress until after seven years, districts must begin to impose “alternative governance,” which may include replacing all the teachers or turning the school over to the state or a private management company.

In addition to Part A, Title I of NCLB comprises several other parts and programs:

  • Part B, the Reading First and Even Start Family Literacy Programs, focuses on improving reading achievement. Reading First awards grants to states to establish reading programs for students in grades kindergarten through 3. Even Start helps states, districts, and nonprofit organizations provide early childhood education to young children and basics skills and literacy instruction to their educationally disadvantaged parents.
  • Part C, the Migrant Education Program, supports state and local programs that address the special educational needs of the children of migratory farmworkers.
  • Part D, the Neglected and Delinquent Children Programs, provides grants to states responsible for educating children in state institutions for neglected or delinquent children, adult correctional institutions, and community day care programs for neglected or delinquent children. It also provides funds to support partnerships between schools and correctional facilities to educate students residing in or returning from correctional facilities.
  • Part F, the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program, provides funds primarily to disadvantaged schools to facilitate school improvement that is based on rigorous research.
  • Part G, the Advanced Placement Incentive Program, encourages states to expand support—especially in low-income areas—for the Advanced Placement Program, which includes academically challenging courses and tests that can help high school students earn college credit.

Although Title I is the largest federal elementary and secondary education program, findings about its impact on student achievement have been mixed. Part of the problem has been that Title I is not a specific intervention that can be easily evaluated, but rather a significant funding stream with a large number of requirements that cut across such areas as teacher quality, comprehensive school reform, and curriculum and instruction. Nonetheless, by some accounts, Title I has been credited with closing the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. From 1970 through the mid-1980s, the learning gap between white students and minority students closed by almost one-third. It is important to note, however, that most of these gains were made in the mastery of basic skills rather than in the mastery of rigorous curricula outlined by state standards (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).

Other studies have shown less promising results. Two authoritative studies in the 1990s found that achievement gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged students were not reduced by Title I (Puma et al., 1993) and that Title I tends to achieve only “modest short-term benefits” (Rotberg and Harvey, 1993).

Due in part to this research, the Clinton Administration tried to sharpen the federal focus on elementary and secondary education in the 1994 reauthorization of the ESEA. Following on the heels of the Goals 2000 legislation, a new emphasis was placed on implementing high academic standards and performance measures for all students, including students who were economically disadvantaged, disabled, had limited proficiency in English, or were migrant students. The changes to Title I introduced in 1994 were expected to result in services being more focused on those students in high-poverty schools, improvements in curriculum and instruction, and greater innovation in services provided (U.S. Department of Education, 1996). NCLB, signed by President Bush in January 2002, sought to further and strengthen these reforms.

Possibly due to the new accountability requirements and other changes in Title I, recent studies have found that Title I might be having a positive impact on student achievement. A study of urban and suburban/rural strategies for educating disadvantaged children concluded that Title I had tended to have a positive effect on student achievement (Stringfield et al., 1997). The National Assessment of Title I (NATI) reported similar findings (U.S. Department of Education, 1999), citing gains in national reading and math performance and progress in the percentage of students in the highest-poverty schools meeting state and local standards for proficiency in math and reading. NATI also found, however, that a substantial achievement gap remains between students in the highest- and lowest-poverty schools.

Title I also appears to have influenced practice at the state and local level. According to NATI, states made significant progress in implementing the accountability provisions of Title I, and half of poor districts reported that Title I facilitated standards-based school reform to a great extent (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). NATI also cites previous research finding that Title I accountability requirements helped states, districts, and schools focus more on the use of data for school improvement, although Anderson and Turnbull (1998) have found that the use of data may not be changing instructional practice on a wide scale.

Indeed, a vast majority of states now have academic standards, school report cards, and comprehensive accountability systems, most of which have been driven by Title I. Overall, 49 states and the District of Columbia have adopted standards in core subjects, 49 states and the District require report cards for all schools, and all states assign ratings to all schools (Quality Counts, 2004). On a much less positive note, many states and districts have been found to lack the capacity to provide meaningful support to schools in need of improvement (Heid and Webber, 1999; Anderson and Turnbull, 1998;). This lack of capacity is of significant concern as states and districts continue to implement the more stringent requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (Center on Education Policy, 2004).

Anderson, L. and B. Turnbull, Living in Interesting Times: Early State Implementation of New Federal Education Laws.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education (October 1998).
Center on Education Policy, “From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.” Washington, DC: Author (January 2004).
Heid, C. and A. Webber, “School-Level Implementation of Standards-Based Reform: Findings from the Follow-up Public School Survey on Education Reform.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education (January 2004).
Joftus, S., R. Skinner, E. May, S. Priestman, and K. Cowan, “School Administrator’s Guide to ESEA Formula Grants.” Washington, DC: Thompson Publishing Group (2002).
Puma, M. et al. “Prospects: The Congressionally Mandated Study of Educational Growth and Opportunity: Interim Report.” Washington, DC: Abt Associates (1993).
Education Week, Quality Counts 2004: Count Me In, (2004).
Riddle, W., “Title I, Education for the Disadvantaged: Perspectives on Studies of Its Achievement Effects"(CRS 96-82). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service (1996).
Rotberg, I.C., and J. Harvey, “Federal Policy Options for Improving the Education of Low-Income Students: Volume I.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND (1993).
Stringfield, S., M. Millsap, R. Herman, N. Yoder, N. Brigham, P. Nesselrodt, E. Schaffer, N. Karweit, M. Levin, and R. Stevens, “Urban and Suburban/Rural Special Strategies for Educating Disadvantaged Children: Final Report.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, (1997).
U.S. Department of Education, “Reforming Schoolwide Projects: Lessons Learned from the National Assessment of Chapter 1,” Washington, D.C.: Author (1994).
U.S. Department of Education, “Mapping Out the National Assessment of Title I: The Interim Report.” Washington, D.C.: Author (1996).
U.S. Department of Education, “Promising Results, Continuing Challenges: The Final Report of the National Assessment of Title I.” Washington, D.C.: Author (1999).

How to Cite This Article
Education Week Staff. (2004, August 4). Title I. Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/title-i/2004/09


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