Academic journal article Policy Review

Failing Grade for Federal Aid: Is It Time to Close the Book on Chapter 1?

Academic journal article Policy Review

Failing Grade for Federal Aid: Is It Time to Close the Book on Chapter 1?

Article excerpt

If Chapter 1 were a business, it would be in Chapter 11. Over the last 28 years, the federally funded compensatory education program has spent $135 billion (in constant 1992-93 dollars) to boost the academic skills of disadvantaged children, with little to show for it. The only longitudinal study ever done on the program -- tracking annual test scores for Chapter 1 students -- found that student achievement is deteriorating, not improving.

A study published earlier this year by the Department of Education called Reinventing Chapter 1 , found that the achievement level of Chapter 1 students has fallen for all groups tested except seventh-grade reading. With 70 percent of the program's students in the elementary grades, the results of Chapter 1 elementary school students are particularly disappointing. From the third grade to the fourth grade, the achievement level of the average Chapter 1 student fell from 26th percentile to the 23rd percentile in reading. In math, scores dropped from the 27th percentile to the 24th.

In a recent article in U.S. World and News Report, Mary Jean Letendre, director of Compensatory Education for the Department of Education, conceded the program's failure to produce results, saying that if Chapter 1's performance were displayed on a heart monitor, "We'd either pull the plug or get out the clappers."

Despite these shortcomings, Chapter 1 is a politically sacrosanct program. The most recent reauthorization in 1988 passed with only one dissenting vote in both the House (401-1) and the Senate (97-1). Until this reauthorization -- after 23 years and $100 billion -- there was no mechanism required to monitor the program's performance. And even with the damning results of the Department of Education study, politicans and the media have largely ignored the program. Moreover, it gets a mere three sentences in the 1,600-page 1993 Federal Budget, despite being the largest line-item in the Department of Education's budget, accounting for 20 percent of its spending every year. In 1993, Chapter 1 received nearly $7 billion, more than twice the amount of Head Start.

Yale professor and Head Start co-founder Edward Zigler has been one of the few in the education field to publicize Chapter 1's lack of success. In a recent Business Week article, Zigler wrote, "While there is not much data on the effectiveness of Chapter 1, policymakers have ignored the results that do exist, namely that participating students do not exhibit meaningful improvements in achievement levels."

The two major evaluations of the program have been sharply critical. The Commission on Chapter 1, funded by the Edna McConnell Clark and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundations, produced a study that criticized: "a continued focus on remediation ... methods for evaluating that are antiquated (and downright harmful)"; and "a perverse incentive structure that discourages schools from working to improve student performance."

The Reinventing Chapter 1 review panel joined Zigler in criticizing the program's sad legacy of complacency and ineffectiveness. "The highest de facto aim of the Chapter 1 program is to achieve low- level basic skills, [but] the program is considered a success if children do not fall further behind."

Thus, not only has Chapter 1 done little to improve student achievement, in some cases it may even be preventing disadvantaged students from catching up.

Great (Society) Expectations

The program began in 1965, when Congress created "Title I -- Better Schooling for Educationally Deprived Children" as a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The program was formed as a part of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and was established to help disadvantaged school-age children catch up with their peers.

To receive Chapter 1 services, a child must be disadvantaged both financially (usually defined by receiving free or reduced-price lunch) and educationally, defined in the statute as "children whose educational attainment is below the level that is usually appropriate for children of their age. …

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