A new report from the Brookings Institution that takes a closer look at Title I funding suggests that the largest program within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is ineffective at improving education for disadvantaged students.
The report, “Why federal spending on disadvantaged students (Title I) doesn’t work,” suggests that the funding per student is too low, coming in at an average of $500-600 per year. Report authors suggest little evidence exists to show that the program as a whole is effective or that the funds are being used on effective services or activities.
While a number of principals report using the funds for professional development for teachers, the authors found a number of studies that say doing so is ineffective and teachers do not find the sessions to be valuable. Principals also report spending the funding on after-school and summer programs, technology purchases, and supplemental services, all of which the authors say have also been proven to be ineffective.
The authors go on to suggest that the funding is not enough to reduce class sizes to the point necessary to create the effects found from previous research that would suggest the program is effective.
Title I provided $14 billion to states in 2014 to help provide a better education for disadvantaged students. However, according to the last study on the topic, the ‘Prospects’ study, no evidence was found that suggested student achievement had increased as a result of Title I. Although the most recent national assessment of Title I did show gains in achievement, the authors suggest this is due to the strict accountability of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as it did not actually measure effectiveness.
As the ESEA is set to be reauthorized, authors Mark Dynarski and Kirsten Kainz have focused on Title I in an effort to determine whether the act is achieving its goals and whether the funds are being spent effectively.
Funds are provided to school districts in need based on data provided by the Census Bureau. Each district then distributes the funds to schools in rank order based on poverty levels. The schools then use the funds to provide aid for students most at risk of failing to meet state learning standards, which does not take into account each student’s poverty level. If at least 40% of the school are economically disadvantaged, the funding can be used to benefit the entire school.
Dynarski and Kainz find that the achievement gap that exists between disadvantaged students and their more well-off peers has existed for so long that more research would be necessary to determine approaches that would in fact be effective in closing the gap. They go on to say that Title I spending would need to increase by five to eight times per student and suggest focusing on the students who need the most help in order to stay “consistent with fiscal realities.”