Title I & ESEA Reauthorization

Does Congress and President Obama understand how Title I money was meant to be used? Looking at what they have proposed to date, it is a question in need of a good, clear answer.

A requirement in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was that a president-appointed advisory council report yearly to the president. The National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children was to review the laws’ progress with the programs and projects Title I funding supports.

In turn, the president was to report the findings to our Congress along with comments and further recommendations.489596

To do this responsibly and hold our government “accountable,” we all need to understand Title I. Title I is the touchstone of the original ESEA.

The federal formula funding was distributed for assistance of “children of low-income families.” The directive was to address the needs of “educationally deprived children,” which the architects understood would include more than just the low-income children given that the schools where the most funds would flow were “inherently unequal.” Needs are going to vary from community to community but potentially all students in schools in low-income communities are at risk for being underserved.

Title I was to address the disadvantages CHILDREN face — economically, educationally, mentally, or physically “disadvantaged”— that were being ignored, or in some cases created, by state and local agencies.

The goal of ESEA was to provide equal access to quality education — that is how “equal opportunity” was defined.

To do so, we have to recognize the barriers “disadvantaged” students and their families face in our communities, schools, and classrooms and fully address those problems directly. Title I dollars flowed to meet the needs of CHILDREN from low-income families….PERIOD. The other five titles of ESEA addressed the needs of low-income schools, communities, and states.

This is our ESEA history. In 1966, less than a year into ESEA’s implementation, President Johnson received his first report from the Council. They reviewed and summarized the programs. They gave examples including one district reporting that health examinations had been conducted for the first time showing that 45% of the children tested were anemic.

Now, how do we expect these disadvantaged children to have the same standards-based outcomes at the same time as healthy children?

As President Obama expressed in Selma,

“Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity,…”

To fulfill our duty to America’s children, effective schools must be established in every community where they do not currently exist. Understanding that those communities with the highest concentrations of poverty have children at greatest risk of being educationally underserved, their needs should be our first priority.

At President Obama’s request, we have identified the lowest performing schools throughout our land. It is our responsibility as a nation to support their improvement, as a short-term goal, while providing a long-term strategy to prevent the wide gaps in opportunities, and therefore educational achievement, that we have experienced in our past and that continue to plague our nation’s children today.

In addition to providing the best in educational opportunities to every child, now is the time for a plan that views appropriation of funds as a national strategic educational investment and expects communities to make wise use of all education resources.

And let it be acknowledged that the urgent need of children begs for some emergency measures.

Let us not lose sight of the purposes of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA):

* To establish equal access to quality education,

* To strengthen and improve all schools.

Here’s the beginning of an alternative a plan to what Congress currently is cooking up:

Title I – Education of Children of Low Income Families to provide formula-funded financial assistance to local education agencies in support of children from low-income families in order expand and improve community efforts to meet their learning needs.

Execution: To address learning needs requires a “needs assessment.” School staff (principals, counselors, aids, and teachers) and parents (or other adults involved in these high-needs children’s lives) will be the first to collectively identify those needs. Those identified needs will then be brought to the attention of the larger group of community stakeholders (civic, non-profit organizations, foundations and concerned individuals) to be further defined, measures for success indicators established, and existing resources in the community identified. “Gaps” in resources will be identified and brought to the attention of state education officials so that no identified need goes unaddressed. State officials will be responsible for identifying their resources and establishing indicators of their success and to continually monitor and report on their ability to meet their responsibility. Needs assessments will be done using the existing government assessment tools.

Emergency measures: Those Title I schools now designated as chronically low-performing or “priority” schools will be guided through the assessment and improvement processes with cooperative funding (“set aside” Title I money) and staff from the state and local districts with a “support team” provided through the U.S. Department of Education.

Schools identified as chronically low-performing need strong, effective, democratic leadership to take these schools through a successful school improvement process. A federal leadership program (Academy) will be

“designed to enable people who are already experienced principals and other school leaders, knowledgeable about how schools work and the special problems they face, to learn how to turn around the expectations, beliefs and practices of school stakeholders in low-performing schools. The expected focus of the Academy would be on how to improve instruction and change schools’ culture” (Ratner, The “Lead Act,” H.R. 5495/S 3469: Briefing Paper).

Accountability: Using the indicators of success as designated for targeted results through the school improvement process, the “appropriate objective measurements” will be used to judge the “effectiveness of the programs in meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children.” Local and state officials will have established the parameters (what and how often) of those measurements and will make those facts transparent to the community and state, respectively. An accounting of expenses and results of the uses of Title I money will be reported to federal officials for review. National monitoring of achievement gaps through the random use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will continue unchanged. Results of progress by the nation and cost /benefits will be reported annually to the President, Congress, and the Nation.

Currently, with ESEA reauthorization discussion being more about a “national accountability system” and “choice,” and less about disadvantaged children, I worry that we have lost our way on the march towards equal educational opportunity.

But then I remember — “WE the People” and the “highest of ideals” that were put into law in 1965 — there is hope.

[The preceding was a modified excerpt from addendum 1 of The Crucial Voice of the People, Past and Present: Education’s Missing Ingredient, second edition, by Victoria M. Young, © 2012]

Kill No Child Left Behind & Do An Autopsy

If we kill No Child left Behind and do an autopsy, buried deep in its bowels you will find the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Over time the guiding principles of ESEA have become obscured with almost 1000 pages of ideologically and financially driven “projects.” From venture capitalists looking to pocket more public dollars through products and services, to our military gaining access to student data for easier and targeted recruiting, to the establishment of national standards without really talking about who controls them — the No Child Left Behind Act has been the place to put the devils details. When ESEA was 35 pages long, this was not a problem.

At the heart of ESEA is Title I. Its purpose was to even the playing field for our nation’s youngest citizens.

The signing of ESEA into law by LBJ, 1965

The signing of ESEA into law by LBJ, 1965

By investing federal funds to meet the needs of “disadvantaged” children, it is known as one of many “War on Poverty” laws because the original funding formula focused on children from poverty-stricken families. That flow of funds, like the major vein coming into the heart, enabled ESEA to function.

The autopsy reveals a couple of large strictures in that main vein.

The original formula funding used each state’s average dollar per student and allotted half again as much to focus on meeting the educational needs of those children living in poverty. The formula was quickly changed to using the national average in order to better help the “poorer states.” However in 1968, only three years after passage of ESEA, the formula funding was made “conditional upon availability of sufficient appropriations” (Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: A Review of the Government and Politics During the Johnson Years, Vol. II, 1965–1968, p710. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1969).

Availability of federal funds for investment in education took a backseat to the funding for the Vietnam War. The law was crippled but did not die.

Through the shear fortitude of the people willing to keep the dream of equal opportunity alive, the law underwent attempts to make it right with “reauthorization” occurring every five to six years. But in 1978, the focus of funding shifted to whole schools instead of remaining dedicated to meeting the needs of disadvantaged children.

Forgotten it seems was this 1966 warning by the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children:

“…it is important to keep the purpose of Title I in sharp focus…The efforts of Title I should not be merged at this time with general aid for schools…in the administration of the Title, it is important to insist that its objective is to help children, not institutions.”

Warning: Simply focus on children.

Today, there is no sign of rectification. This is where we stand –Title I, Part A .

“(ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.”

The focus is blurred and the money is seen as general aid to schools.

Title I is crippled and blinded but ESEA had four other titles.

Like the oxygen-poor blood coming into the heart is incapable of sustaining life without the rest of the circulatory system working effectively, funding alone is not enough to improve access to “quality” education. To improve overall educational quality so as to ensure equal access, the other titles were to be guided by the identified needs of impoverished communities. Never forgetting that Title I is the heart of ESEA, improving and strengthening the whole public education system was the bigger purpose of the other ESEA titles.

Title II focused funding on instructional materials including textbooks and school library resources, which benefitted all students. Title III filled “services” gaps as identified by community needs assessments. Title IV, known as the Cooperative Research Act, was designed to provide research, training, and dissemination of information aimed at improving the quality of teachers and counselors. And Title V was “to stimulate and assist in strengthening the leadership resources of State educational agencies” because the writers of ESEA understood that the states failing to improve at a satisfactory rate lacked the competence to improve themselves.

The lawmakers back in 1965 recognized that disadvantages of various kinds led to the inequalities in educational opportunities. No single artery or vein of improvement improves the viability of the system. Every part needs to serve its purpose.

Through materials and services that support teaching and learning, better university training of teachers and counselors, and better distribution of “best practices” to the states and the communities who need them the most, the 1965 ESEA attempted to bring social justice to the education system by focusing federal funding on the needs of impoverished children. The country invested in them.

At the heart of ESEA are strong, reasoned, and researched-based concepts.

But with the current ESEA reauthorization now being narrowed to pre-determined topics of discussion and fast-tracked after an eight-year delay, the People need to scream for a halt to the process. The autopsy is not complete. It has only just begun.

The public hears that federal education law, NCLB/ESEA, didn’t work to improve education but until the people understand what went wrong in the past, the country is doomed to continue allowing the diseased portions of the law to kill the system.

Does it sound to you like the law ever had a fair shot at addressing the unique educational needs of poverty-stricken children?

And there is much more to consider.