Reauthorizing the Education Act

Report Education

Reauthorizing the Education Act

April 23, 1987 16 min read Download Report
Eileen Gardner

(Archived document, may contain errors)


April 23, 1987



Congress is scheduled this year to reauthorize the Education Consolidation and = ent Act (ECIA). This is the legislation that funds the federal com ensatory program. Chapter 1 (formerly Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Zcondary Education Act), ana the education block grant, Chapter 2. Passage of the ECIA in 1981 was an important step in deregulating federal programs and returning authority over education to the states and localities. Current legislative efforts, however, overloolrdata that challenge the efficacy of Chapter 1 and threaten to reimpose federal control over the implementation of Chapters 1 and 2. A thorough analysis of Chapter 1 has reinforced earlier study findings that the program has failed to accomplish its goal of closing the gap between average-achieving and low-achieving students. Despite billions of dollars and extensive effort, Chapter 1 participants remain at comparatively low achievement levels in reading and mathematics--the subject areas targeted by the Chapter 1 program. Instead of acknowledging the program's failure, however, Congress and the education establishment point to small, tem expansion Porary gains, proclaim the program a success, and call for its and increased funding. This is a mistake. Chapter 1 should be repealed, and its nearly $4 billion pro osed expenditure returned to the federal Treasury. Failing this, Chapter 1 could funrivouchers that parents could use to purchase educational services for their children. Another option would be to repeal Chapter 1 and transfer its funds to the Chapter 2 Block Grant. Satisfied Coordinators. The Chapter 2 Block Grant has by nearly all accounts been a success. Most of the local program coordinators have- expressed satisfaction with their increased flexibility and the reduced administrative burden. A major study of the local implementation of Chapter 2 reports that the localities have used the funds responsibly and that have contributed to widespread educational improvement. Despite this =e, Congress is threatening to expand the federal program in inappropriate ways (such as a plan for sending "experts" into the homes of the poor to "train" parents in preparing their children for school) and to target narrowly local school districts' use of Chapter 2 funds (for dropout prevention and illiteracy programs, for example). These efforts run counter to the original intent of Congress to further local and state control, and they ought to be resisted.


Chapter 1 of the ECIA provides funds to school districts for the remedial education of low-achieving students from poor families. The pro&ram was based on the emise that pr ts fr social deprivation causes the generally poor academic performance of studen om low-income families and that this can be overcome by concentrated remedial instruction. The aim was to lift the academic performance of poor students who were low achievers up to the level of th? average student. In academic year 1983-1984, the program served 4.8 million studenj. Of these, 51 percent were white, 29 percent were black, and 16 percent were Hispanic. Chapter 1 services are concentrated in the elementary grades, but they are also rovided in preschool and high school. Private school students traditionally have been e1i *?Ile to receive Chapter 1 services. In 1983-1984, Chapter 1 serviced over 300,000 such gi students, of whom 77 percent were attending Catholic schools.' Nearly $1 billion was appropriated for Title I (Chapter 1) in FY 1966, its first ear of funding; the $2.7 billion appropriated in 1978 &e ented some 47 percent of adfederal elementary and secondary education spending. Wes Reagan Administration's FY 1988 budgFt request for Chapter 1 is $4.1 billion, up from $2.8 billion in Jimmy Carter's last year in the White House.

Is Chapter I Effective? Ile results of the program have been analyzed several times. Each assessment has asked the same questions: 1) Is the program serving the population for. wbich it was intended? and 2) Is the program academically effective?

In 1968 the National Ad Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children reviewed the administratio=7operation of Title 1. It reported that Title I funds were supplanting state and local dollars to support general education needs father than providing s@pplemental compensatory services for poor, slow students. Other studies found that the achievement test scores of students receiving compensatory education were not @ignificantly better than those of eligible children who were not ip Title 1. The improvements credited to Title I, meanwhile, proved temporary.

1. PoveL% Achievement and the Distribution of Compensatory Education Services: National Assessment of Chapter 1. 1986. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Office of Research, Appendix F-4.

2. Terry H. Hartle and Andrea Bilson, "Increasing the Educational Achievement of Disadvantaged Children: Do Federal Programs Make a Difference?" Draft 5 (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, November 3, .1986).

3. PoveaL Achievement og. cit. Appendix F-3.

4. "Report to Accompany S. 991 to Establish a Department of Education and for Other Purposes, Together with Additional Views," Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, Report No. 95-1078, May 17, 1978.

5. Ibid.

6. "Intergovernmentalizing the Classroom: Federal Involvement in Elementary and Secondary Education," in The Federal Role in the Federal Sy5tem: The D Mamics of Growth Washington, D.C.: Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, March 1981), p. 44. In 1974 and 1983, Congress again provided funds for national assessments of the federal compensatory education program. The 1974 study, 'The Sustaining Effects of Compensatory Education on Basic Cognitive Skills," is one of the most comprehensive reviews of elementary education in U.S. history. Researchers were instructed to report on the targeting of eligible Title I students and on the effectiveness of the program. The second assessment, entitled "The National Assessment of Chapter 1," was released this February. It integrates the findings of the "Sustaining Effects Study" with those of several other noteworthy assessments of e Chapter I program. - Targeting Deflciencies. In reviewin targeting, this report found that, although Chapter 1 allocates federal funds to local schoof districts based on the number of school-aged students from poor families in the district, not all students eligible for Chapter 1 services receive them. -in 1976, for example, many students receiving individual math and reading services were scoring above average in those subjects, while approximately 60 p@rcejt o the students who were scoring below the 25th percentile were not receiving services. These deficiencies in the targeting of Chapter 1 services have been caused by several factors: Chapter 1 is not available to all schools with poor, low-achieving students. Districts with relatively low concentrations of poor families are not eligible for Chapter 1 funds. Chapter 1 services are not available at all grade levels. Adding to the problem are the schools' often erratic selection procedures. The main problem with Chapter 1, however, is not targeting but lack of effectiveness. The 1986 National Assessment of Chapter 1 draws on data from several national studies ev hm-tin- the effectiveness of the program. Its overall conclusions are rimarkably consistent with earlier assessments of compensatory education programs. Among the findings: 1) Me achievement of disadvantaged students has improved since 1965, especially in reading, relative to the achievement of the general population."

This conclusion is drawn from data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, mandated by Congress in the 1960s to measure the reading, science, and mathematics performance of American 9, 13, and 17-year-olds. The NAEP assessment did not specifically identify Title I/Chapter 1 students, although it did differentiate between advantaged and disadvantaged populations. Although the NAEP data show improvement in the achievement of this population, these students still perform well below their more advantaged counterparts. The reading achievement of urban advantaged students, for example, remained steady from 1971 to 1984, while that of the urban disadvantaged students improved. Even with the improvement, however, the disadvantaged 17-year-olds did less well than the advantaged 13-year-olds. In other words, the disadvantaged twelfth graders were reading at about the eighth grade level.

7. "A Study of Compensatory and Elementary Education: The Sustaining Effects Study' Final Report, Launor F. Carter. Prepared by the System Development Corporation for the Office of Program Evaluation, U.S. Department of Education, January 1983.

8. PoyerlL Achievement oR. cit., p. 4.

9. "The Effectiveness of Chapter 1 Services," Second Interim Report from the National Assessment of Chapter 1, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, July 1986, pp. iv-v. 2) "Students receiving Chapter I services experience lar$er increases in their standardized achievement test scores than comparable students who do not. However, their gains do not move them substantially toward the achievement levels of more adyantaged students." [andl "Students participating in Chapter 1 mathematics programs gain more than those participating in Chapter 1 reading programs." Data from two sources, the "Sustaining Effects" study and the 'Title I/Chapter 1 Evaluation and Reporting System" (TIERS), show the changes in percSntile ranks in reading and math of Chapter 1 students for 1976-1977 and 1983-1984.1 Tables 1 and 2 present the Sustaining Effects and TIERS pre- and post-test percentile rankings of Title I/Chapter 1 students during these years. The original goal of Title I was to bring the acadermic performance of the targeted poor, slow children up to that of their average peers. While Tables 1 and 2 show some gain (more in mathematics than in reading), this gain is small.. Moreover, the percentile ranking of Chapter 1 students steadflg declines with the increase in grade level. For example, in reading, the rank falls from e 19th percentile in 2nd grade to the 16th percentile in the 12th grade. 3) "Students in early elementary Chapter I programs gain more than students participating in later-grade programs." Even when compensatory services are extended to the high school level, Chapter 1 students lose ground. Ile data_presented do not indicate what proportion of Chapter 1 high school students were also Chapter 1 elementary school students. Such data are needed, however, to determine if uninterrupted Chapter 1 particpation significantly im oves the achievement of the participating students. No doubt some of the Chapter 1 hiEschool students were also in the programs during their preschool years. If this is true, th the academic regression of Chapter 1 high school students argues against extending Chapter 1 services to the high school level. 4) "Students who discontinue Title I appear gradually to lose the gains they made when receiving services." The small gains of the early years, therefore, do not seem to help students to accommodate future learning demands. This appears also to be the case when the Title I/Chapter 1 program is extended to the high school level. 5) "Chapter I students with very low achievement scores appear to maintain their relative a'cademic positions but not to move ahead. However, the evidence suggests they would have lost ground relative to their peers if they had not received services." In a "Sustaining Effects" chart comparing the changes in percentile rankings for Title I students with those of similar students not receiving compensatory education, Title I students consistently outscored their non-Title I peers in mathematics, although both groups remained well below the 35th percentile rank (with the excepq?n of first grade Title I math students, who rose to the 34th percentile at the spring testing).

10. The percentile rank is a test score showing the percentage of all students nationwide who score below a given level. The average student scores at the 50th percentile. To be eligible for Title I/Chapter 1, students must fall below the 50th percentile on an achievement test.

11. "The Effectiveness of Chapter 1 Services," o2. cit. p. 28.


Table 1 Changes in Percentile Ranks in Reading and Math of Title I/Chapter I Students 1976-1977

Reading Math Grade Fall 1976 Spring 1977 Fall 1976 Spring 1977

1 30 30 31 34

2 26 26 28 29

3 23 25 26 30

4 22 23 23 26

5 21- 21 23 26

6 20 21 26 28

Table 2 Changes in Percentile Ranks'in Reading and Math. of Title I/Chapter 1 Students 1983-1984

Reading Math Grade Spring 12U Spring 1984 Spring 1983 Spring 1984

2 29 31 35 40

3 24 29. 31 37

4 24 29 28 34

5 23 28 28 35

6 23 28 28 35

7 23 27 25 31

8 23 27 28 33

9 23 25 30 32

10 18 20 24 25

11 17 18 25 26

12 16 16 22 25

Source: Tables 1 and I "The Effectiveness of Chapter 1 Services," M. !dL., p. 26P.


The reading rank of Title I Ent graders remained at the 30th percentile from fall to spring testings, while comparable low-achieving first graders in non-Title I schools dropp from the 29th percentile to the 25th. Roweier, data comparing the two groups at t gd he h gr@de level show the needy students in noncompensatory education schools outperforming their Title I counterparts.

Results of the Studies

Studies thus consistently indicate problem s in targeting the population that Title I/Chapter 1 is meant to serve. Studies also show that the $oal of the federal coTpensatory educationprogram. is not bein$ reached. Temporary, modest gains occur in reading and mathematics performance in the early grades. The extension of compensatory services into the higher grades, however, does not raise the targeted students' relative standing. Older Chapter 1 students, in fact, fall further behind the average achiever. It is argued that compensatory services help to kee young at-risk students from losing ground. This may be so, but it is reasonable to ask Kether it is worth spending $4 billion a year to hold the academic performance of the targeted students at the 25th and 30th percentile ranks.


Several bills have been introduced to modify the Chapter 1 legislation. Among them:

The Equity and Choice Act of 1985 (TEACH) The U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1985 that the 15-year-old practice of allowing public school teachers to administer Chapter 1 services to children in parochial schools was unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Education responded to the ruling with the TEACH voucher proposal. TEACH would have required local school districts to provide any eligible parent, on request, with a voucher for the amount the district spent per pupil for Chapter 1 services. The voucher could be cashed at a public or private school for compensatory services or full tuition. The Department failed to win bipartisan support for TEACH, and the measure thus died in committee.

The Department of Education's New Proposal Ile Department this February sent a new proposal to Congress. Tle plan, however, seeks to improve Chapter 1 services by top-down administrative oversight and incentives. States are to monitor districts, for example, and intervene to correct deficiencies. States also may set aside 1 percent of their Chapter 1 funds to award grants to local districts to replicate or expand effective Chapter 1 programs. The new proposal includes a severely weakened choice option in the form of compensatory education certificates (CECs), which would not be as useful as the TEACH vouchers. Parents would be able to use the CECs only for supplemental compensatory services, while the TEACH voucher could have been used for full tuition costs. CEC availability would be at the discretion of the local education agency, while TEACH would have placed the choice option at the discretion of the parents. Ile initial reaction of Capitol Hill and education groups to the top-down controls in the Department bill has been generally positive. Both groups, however, reject the limited voucher. HX 950 House Education and Labor Committee Chairman, Augustus Hawkins, the California Democrat, and second-ranking minority member, Pennsylvania's William Goodling, have introduced legislation very similar to the Department's bill, but without the CECs. It would broaden the Chapter I program at the preschool and high school levels. The bill calls for $350 million to be added to the FY 1987 appropriation of $3.9 billion, to fund "concentration grants" for districts with high percentages of poor students. Hawkins and Goodling also reportedly.intend to request an extra $30 million to Pelp school districts pay for the added cost of serving eligible students in sectarian schools.' The Children's Opportunity for Intensive Compensatory Education Act of 1986 (CHOICE) Last year, sSyen House Republicans, led by Nfichigan's Paul Henry and Wisconsin's I Thomas Petri,' crafted a bill that would have given Chapter 1 parents a voucher to exercise greater control over their children's education. They now have withdrawn their bill, and no substitute has been introduced. CHOICE would have changed the distribution of Chapter 1 funds from the state to the local school districts to target eligible children better. In consultation with Chapter 1 parents, the schools would have been required to draw up an "Individual Instructional Plan" (IIP) for each child. Based on the needs identified in the UP and the range of services offered, parents would have been given freedom to decide which educational institution--public, private, or proprietary--would best serve their child. With the TEACH and CHOICE bills withdrawn, there is no pending legislation that truly upholds the sovereignty of arents over their children's education and the right of public and private schools to tailor their Chapter 1 programs to the unique needs of their students without top-down &overnment control. The only bills that remain in the hopper curtail the freedom of individual schools and parents.

CEL4PTER 2 Chapter 2 was the first education block grant. Implemented in the 1982-1983 academic year, it consolidated over 40 categorical education programs, such as metric education, preschool partnership programs, law-related education, and desegregation funds. It replaced these categorical programs with block grant money for school districts, which gave them greater latitude to spend the federal funds on broader-based activities. 71 iorities of the block grant included the reduction of administrative and paperwork bur ens, - strengthening local control over program expT4nditures, and distributing program benefits more equitably to children in private schools.

12. Since the Supreme Court decision, public school districts have wrestled with the problem of providing compensatory services to eligible sectarian school students without sending government teachers into the religious schools. The van purchases, building rental fees, and transportation costs that have been required in order to do this have consumed a disproportionate about of many districts' Chapter 1 allocations. 13. The other Representatives were Willis Gradison (OH), Rod Chandler (WA), William Whitehurst (VA), Robert Livingston (LA), and-Ralph Regula (OH). 14. Michael S. Knapp and Craig H. Blakely, "The Education Block Grant at the Local Level: The Implementation of Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act in Districts and Schools," SRI International, Menlo Park, California. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Budget and Evaluation, Washington, D.C., January 1986, pp. 3-4. -7-

Tbree-quarters of the school districts, especially the smallest, gained funds through the block grant. The largest districts, however, suffered heavy losses, because of changes in funding distribution. According to a study by SRI International, commissioned by the Department of Education, however, with the excfe * n of the largest urban d\u223\'a7tricts, the P"o block grant has not resulted in "obvious shifts of unding" from poor children. In fact, Chapter 2 schools reportedly are placing an increasing emphasis on remedial programs for disadvantaged students. Reducing Red Tape. Ile Chapter 2 Block Grant apparently has reduced red tape and permitted greater local fie.-,dbility in using federal funds. About half the district coordinators surveyed by SRI International felt that Chapter 2 is more fleidble than the categori programs, while about 40gercent felt it was about the same, and only 10 percent fel Chapter 2 is less flexible. Although few Chapter 2 personnel in local districts view the block grant as a means of carrying out state or federal reform pr9posals, they actually use the funds to support reforms and advafice priorities proposed by the states. and "hington. Ilese include upgrading computer, math, and science education, improving mimmurn competency test scores, and applying effective schools research to new programs.' Significantly, nearly two-flfths of the local representatives say that no improvement is needed in implementing Cha ter 2. Of those with recommeidations for improvement, the one most often cited is a furtfler reduction in federal strings. Private school officials also are pleased with Chapter 2 services, judging4hem to be as equitable or more so than those services provided by the previous programs.

Legislative Initiatives Ilere are currently three major proposals to amend Chapter 2--one each from the Department of Education, the Senate, and the House. ** The Department of Education's proposal calls for two major changes in the Chapter 2 legislation designed to encourage localities to enact state reform measures: expand the list of activities allowed funding under Chapter 2 to include state education reforms mandated "on or after enactment" of the ECIA (Education Consolidation and Improvement Act) reauthorization; and waive provisions in the current law that prohibit schools from using funds for state-funded programs. ** S. 2598, The Targeted Educational Assistance Act. Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, Chairman of the Senate Education, Arts and Humanities Subcommittee, has introduced S. 2598, which would amend ECIA to provide grants to the states to meet educational needs in the areas of dropout prevention, illiteracy, programs for gifted and talented students, basic skill programs for elementary and secondary students, and library resource programs. This legislation would highly restrict the use of Chapter 2 funds.

15. Maggie Hume, "Report Faults Chapter 2 for Shunning S-tude ts with Special Needs," Education Dail (Alex dria, n an Virginia: Capitol Publications, December 29, 1986), p. 16.

16. Knapp and Blakely, M. cit . pp. 269-269.

17. ibid.

1& ibid .

19. Ibid.,p. 213.

H.R. 4463, The Effective Schools and Even Start Act. In the House, California's Augustus Hawkins, Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has introduced legislation to require states to use at least half of their share of Chapter 2 funds to develop, implement, and evaluate effective schools programs. States would have to submit the results of these evaluations to the National Diffusion Network, a federal curriculum dissemination system. Ile bill also would combine adult basic education for parents and school readiness training for children into a single educationprogram. Through this program parents would be trained by "experts" at educational facilities and in the home in how to prepare their children for school.

Possible Effects of Proposed Legislation The Senate and House bills would curtail seriously local school districts' discretion over expenditures of Chapter 2 funds. The Senate bill limits local flexibility in choosing program priorities, while the House bill sets up a system that will result in increased government intervention into family affairs. Chapter 2 has proved itself effective and popular with local school officials and teachers. Indeed, their major criticism of Ch4pter 2 is that it is not free enough of Washington's control. With the exception of the Department of Education's bill, none of the bills discussed here honors the spirit and purpose of Chapter 2.


The reauthorization of the ECIA offers Congress an opportunity to reform key federal I i lation affecting the nation's schools. Ideally Chapter 1 should be repealed and the $4 billion returned to the federal Treasury. Instead of pouring moire money into a program with only marginal demonstrated success, schools should be provided with information on what works with slow students--such as an orderly environment; persevering, dedicated teachers; repetition; hands-on, concrete learning activities; phonics reading instruction; and high expectations. None of these requires massive amounts of extra money. Transfer Funds to Chapter 2. Given the likely opposition to such a step, an alternative would be to transfcr Chapter 1 funds to Chapter 2. Since most Chapter 2 districts are executing effective schools recommendations and strengthening remedial instructional services, adding Chapter 1 monies to the Chapter 2 Block Grant would benefit disadvantaged students by enhancing the total academic environment as well as by meeting. their specific remedial needs. The Voucher Alternative. Congress should also examine the voucher program as an alternative to Chapter 1, despite the withdrawal of TEACH and CHOICE. A voucher program would place control of compensatory education in the hands of those, other than the students themselves, who are most affected by education services--the parents--forcing schools to be far more sensitive to demands for effective approaches. In addition, the prohibition of the use of Ch@pter 2 funds in conjunction with state funds should be removed to give schools greater flexibility. Other than that, Chapter 2 is flne as it is. Ile experience generally with block grant funding has been that states and localities have responded well to the increased flexibility provided to them, and that successful innovation tends most often to.come from institutions and levels of government closest to the people, and not. from Washington. In education, as in other areas of domestic policy, lawmakers need to incorporate that principle into legislation.

Eileen M. Gardner, Ed.D. MJ. Murdock Fellow in Education Policy Studies


Eileen Gardner