US News and World Report Discovers Title One Funding Debacle 50 Years Too Late
As noted in an earlier post, one of the most astonishing “discoveries” I made when I went into public school administration was that affluent districts received Title One services. After teaching for two years in a desperately needy Philadelphia public middle school (it ranked 40th out of 40 based on test results), in 1972 I won a Ford Foundation fellowship in school administration at the University of Pennsylvania designed to develop a “New Breed” of school leaders. As part of my training, I wanted to learn about the business side of the operation of public schools and Penn arranged for me to work with an alum who was Assistant Superintendent for Business in an affluent district that bordered Philadelphia. In the process of preparing the budget I was surprised to find that one of the schools in the district received Title One funds, which I naively believed went only to the neediest districts in the State. My mentor chuckled and explained that there was no way the Federal law would have passed if EVERY district didn’t get SOMETHING from the funds. He noted that his district determined that the best way to use the funds was to direct it to one school instead of spreading it around, an arrangement that the administrative team agreed to because the one school receiving the funds was “the toughest” one in the district. He also explained the “supplement versus supplant” concept, noting that the school receiving the money could only use it for a program that was above and beyond the standard curriculum.
The difference between the “tough” school in this leafy suburban enclave and the “tough schools” only three stops away on the train were stunning. The “tough” suburban school had 20 children per classroom, an array of support services, and small but relatively well kept single family dwellings. The school I worked in a year earlier was on a split shift the first year I worked there and crammed 1800 students into a school that had a capacity of roughly 1200 during the second year. We waited months to get a psychological evaluation on a student, had worn textbooks and had to share overhead projectors, and drew from deteriorating neighborhoods full of gangs and drugs. We use Title One funds to supplement our baseline by providing instructional materials that were built into the baseline of the affluent suburb I worked in.
In their generally comprehensive article on the problems with Title One, USNews and World Report writers Lauren Camera and Lindsey Cook overlook this fundamental problem, and focus on the opaque funding formulas that achieve the end result in the headline title of the essay: “Title One: Rich School Districts Get Millions Meant for Poor Kids”. The article also sidesteps the other fundamental problem with equity, which is the underfunding and/or non-existence of redistributive state formulas that are intended to provide each child in our country with an equal opportunity for success.
from my perspective, the biggest flaw in Camera and Cook’s article is that it compares how Title One funds are distributed among districts that serve large numbers of children in poverty. This leads to this kind of analysis:
But legislative fixes, including the two proposed during the most recent overhaul of No Child Left Behind that the president signed into law in December, have proved an impossible task – largely because any change to the formula would have significant ramifications for big city school districts, which represent some of the most impoverished communities in the entire country.
“What their response would be is, ‘Oh what I see you’re after here is to take money away from our most intractable concentrations of poverty,'” says Marguerite Roza, research professor at Georgetown University and director of its Edunomics Lab. “And in some cases that is exactly what it would mean.”
But wait! What if MORE money was provided for districts serving children raised in poverty! Alas, that idea will never gain traction because legislators have accepted the fanciful thinking that poverty has no bearing on schooling: teachers only need to work harder and students only need to have more “grit” . The legislators across the country cling to this belief because it doesn’t require them to raise taxes: they only need to assign blame and pay for testing to prove what researchers have known for decades: poverty matters.