Title I of the United States Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 is designated Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged, which frames the educational policies and agendas of the US Department of Education. It targets the academic achievement gap between high and low-performing children, the latter typically being from poor or underprivileged backgrounds. Title I, which has been described as the "cornerstone" of the No Child Left Behind Act, is the largest federal education program.
The purpose of Title I is "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic achievements." It involves a set of programs which distribute grants to local educational agencies to achieve this aim through comprehensive school reform. It is designed at helping local school improvement, as well as advanced placement and dropout prevention programs.
The US Department of Education (USDE) oversees the different Title I programs, which are implemented in order to achieve the goals set in the legislation. The so-called "Student Achievement and School Accountability" programs disburse funding to more than 50,000 public schools around the United States. According to the USDE, more than 17 million schoolchildren from poor families are recipients of the funding through their educational institutions. The programs cover all primary and secondary grades including kindergarten with 60 percent of funding covering kindergarten to fifth grade. Schools eligible to receive the funding are institutions where at least 40 percent of the student population comes from low income families.
The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, has reauthorized and refocused the Title I programs to reflect 21st century realities and failures of the American educational system. Education analyst Garry Boulard argues that one of the main focal points of this legislative revision is an effort to achieve accountability for the programs and funds spent by integrating rigorous testing and performance standards for schools. The testing has been carried out for all students in grades three to eight, with schools evaluated based on the results.
The overall result, as Boulard points out is that standardized test scores have been improving in all states since the passage of that Act. However, there has been controversy surrounding the implementation of the testing system and concerns that schools eager to demonstrate higher scores and retain funding may still be failing their underprivileged students in a broader academic context. In a compendium of articles, Title I, Compensatory Education at the Crossroads (2001), education scholars point out other inherent issues surrounding the overall implementation of the program. One such issue revolves around the involvement of parents in Title I compensatory programs. This is an important element in ensuring the programs are well received by the target communities. Examining the history and specific parent involvement approaches, a research team from Johns Hopkins University concludes that until the late 1980s parents were rarely involved in consultation and decision-making regarding the implementation of the program.
More collaborative approaches involving parents emerged after 1988 which were specifically designed to extend learning opportunities into the home. These were found to improve academic achievement indirectly, by fostering a sense of school community extending through parents. The researchers compared the result from these different efforts based on previous studies, score data and surveys. They concluded that comprehensive programs that include both partnership efforts and learning resources for the home are best in engaging parents and promoting effective home-based learning.
Another important issue surrounding the implementation of the programs is the cultural and linguistic diversity found among the target group of economically underprivileged students and families. Barry Rutherford, from the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, recognizes these issues. He advises that the reality of "multicultural, multilingual and multinational population of children in the nation's schools" needs to be adequately addressed, for example by instituting or retaining bilingual educational programs. In Rutherford's view, effective teaching involves both language and literacy development in the classroom as well as the ability and practice of connecting the curriculum directly to the students' diverse life experiences. A continuing debate about Title I and educational reform remains extremely relevant in American society, with a significant wealth gap resulting in diverging academic and career achievement.