Why Not Simply Throw Title I Funds out of a High Window?
Sandra Stotsky, February 13, 2015
Why not simply throw Title I funds from a window on a high floor in a tall building? Disposing of the money that way might be just as ineffective as giving it to states and school districts seems to have been in reading since the inception of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, the key education policy in Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. In fact, throwing the funds away might be less damaging to the future education of low-income children than whatever we have been doing. After about a half dozen re-authorizations since 1965, the latest in 2002 and titled No Child Left Behind, it seems that there is little to show in educational improvement in reading for the billions that have been given to states and local school districts to improve the education of low-income students.
What we don’t have a handle on are the useless materials these funds may have purchased, the poor teaching practices they may have encouraged, and the number of students whose attitudes toward school may have been negatively impacted. Researchers rarely try to find out if a well-intentioned public policy may have had negative consequences as well as positive ones.
As economist and education researcher Helen Ladd concluded in her comments on a 2010 Brookings Institution paper by Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob titled The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Students, Teachers, and Schools:
“… First, the null findings for reading indicate to me that to the extent that higher reading scores are an important goal for the country, NCLB is clearly not the right approach. That raises the obvious follow-up question: what is?…
The fact is that neither Congress nor the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) knows what will improve the education of low-income students on a national scale. And despite the tightened screws for “accountability” in the grade-by-grade tests that Senator Lamar Alexander and Representative John Kline have built into the 2015 re-authorization of ESEA/NCLB, we have no clear understanding of exactly how Title I funds have been spent at the local level to improve the reading of low-achieving, low-income children for 50 years: for what kinds of curriculum materials or programs, for how many Title I teachers and aides and with what kind of training, and for how many hours of instruction.
Ironic, isn’t it? In the age of accountability, we don’t know how states and schools have spent Title I money to improve reading. All we know is that whatever they’ve done in reading hasn’t worked—at least by the high school years.
Three studies done before NCLB, two by the General Accounting Office (GAO), and one by American Institutes of Research (AIR), are informative. Here is how Title I money was generally used up to 2003 in the districts in these studies. According to one of the GAO reports, the districts spent the majority of Title I funds on salaries and benefits, largely for instructional personnel. So far, so good. That was what most Title I money was for. But according to the AIR study in 1998 using information gathered from hundreds of school districts across the country:
“The most significant resource that Title I adds to schools is the additional teachers and aides that are hired through Title I funds. Instructional staff accounted for three-fourths (74 percent) of the Title I funds used at the school level. Teachers accounted for three-fourths of Title I spending on instructional staff (76 percent), and teacher aides accounted for the remaining 24 percent.”
The report notes that the total number of Title I-funded teacher aides (68,724) was more than the number of Title I teachers (65,555) because teacher aides tend to be part-time positions. However, the report also notes that “although paraprofessionals are commonly used to teach or help to teach children, they usually lack the educational background that would qualify them for this role.”
The AIR report had more to say: “Title I teacher aides reported that 60 percent of their time was spent on teaching or helping to teach students. Moreover, 41 percent of Title I aides reported that half or more of the time they spent teaching or helping to teach students was on their own, without a teacher present, and 76 percent spent at least some of their time teaching without a teacher present. Although 99 percent of these aides had a high school diploma or a GED, only 25 percent (and 10 percent in the highest-poverty schools) had a bachelor’s degree.”
The question for our national senators and congressmen is: Should ESEA continue to give out Title I money for under-qualified teachers for low-income students and continue damaging their education? Or doesn’t it matter so long as the public perception is that extra tax money is being spent on them, and that increased government control of the entire public school system is the right price to pay, whether or not low-income students learn to read and write well?
One thing Sen. Alexander and Rep. Kline could do to show that Republicans don’t want under-qualified teachers teaching low-income students is require the following: in order for prospective Title I teachers and teacher aides to be paid out of Title I funds, these prospective teachers must take and pass the Reading Foundations test for prospective elementary teachers now used by MA, CT, NC, WI, and NH.
- Chambers, Jay; Lieberman, Joanne; Parrish, Tom; Kaleba, Daniel; Van Campen, James; Stullich, Stephanie. Study of Education Resources and Federal Funding: Final Report. American Institutes for Research, Washington, DC; Department of Education, Washington, DC. Planning and Evaluation Service. REPORT NO: ED-PES-2000-04 (2000). ED 445 178, UD 033 792
- United States General Accounting Office. TITLE I: Although Definitions of Administrative Expenditures Vary, Almost All School Districts Studied Spent Less Than 10 Percent on
Administration. (April 2003). Report to Congressional Committees.
- United States General Accounting Office. DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS: School Districts Have Used Title I Funds Primarily to Support Instruction. (July 2011). Report to Congressional Committees.