A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Education Reforms and Students at Risk: A Review of the Current State of the Art - January 1994

Chapter 8: Emerging Strategies

Changes in Chapter 1

The size and scope of Chapter 1 make the program an important bellwether for change in compensatory education. Chapter 1 was reauthorized in 1988 under the Hawkins-Stafford Elementary and Secondary School Improvement Amendments, which were touted as the first "education-based" reforms to Chapter 1. The amendments were designed to increase accountability for student performance, provide opportunities for greater flexibility in pursuit of improved performance, stress higher order thinking in addition to basic skills, and increase emphasis on parent involvement. One of the most significant changes brought about by the new legislation was the provision for greater flexibility in the coordination of Chapter 1 resources with the regular school program by enabling schools with 75 percent or more students eligible for free lunches to use Chapter 1 funds for schoolwide programs (LeTendre, 1991).

Winfield (1991) articulates both the potential and the challenges inherent in several Chapter 1 schoolwide projects (SWPs). In these programs, specialized SWP personnel assist schools in integrating site-based management, effective instructional strategies, and increased parent involvement. Teachers and principals report that the flexibility of SWP enables them to create more effective learning environments for all the students on their campuses. Winfield cautions, however, that the success of the SWP option depends (1) on adequate support for change at the central office and (2) on the availability of adequate resources for on-site assistance, more intensive professional development, and high-quality educational interventions for underachieving students.

One specific implementation of an SWP is at the Santa Domingo School in rural New Mexico, which serves a disadvantaged American Indian population and where 97 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals (de Baca, Rinaldi, Billig, and Kinnison, 1991). In an effort that coordinated all funding groups supporting the school, several strategies were applied, including staff development, the elimination of pull-out programs, sharp reduction of student/teacher ratios, implementation of early prevention programs and summer school programs, and the installation and use of two computer laboratories.

This integrated effort succeeded in increasing overall achievement test scores in reading 3.1 Normal Curve Equivalents (NCEs) per year for Chapter 1-eligible students and 7.1 NCEs per year for all students. Writing, school attendance, student self-esteem, and parent involvement all improved markedly, while special education referrals, discipline problems, and vandalism decreased. Teachers used collaborative decision-making approaches and reported interacting with one another more frequently with positive results. SWP provided Santa Domingo with "a cognitively clear, systematically structured approach to whole-school change" (ibid., p. 367). Project coordinators observe that identifying all students as Chapter 1 students removes the stigma associated with the "special student" label and creates an atmosphere where the entire school staff, parents, and community members feel shared responsibility for student learning.

Few argue with the intent of the Hawkins-Stafford reauthorization to provide for greater flexibility in the use of Chapter 1 funds and to encourage a focus on student outcomes. Few also would take issue with the way in which schools such as Santa Domingo are taking advantage of this flexibility. The program improvement mandates accompanying the bill, however, have been the subject of some criticism. Under the new program improvement requirements, schools that are not making sufficient progress toward bringing students up to grade-level performance must recast their programs so that they will produce measurable gains in student progress. On the face of it, this is a reasonable, even laudable, goal. However, several researchers argue that the requirements may have a variety of negative effects, stemming from potential error in identifying schools "needing improvement," stigmatized feelings on the parts of those programs so identified, an evaluation model that encourages the use of standardized tests and that relies heavily on student gains measured in Normal Curve Equivalents (NCEs), possible greater incidence of retention in order to boost test scores, and an increased tendency by schools to focus on narrow instructional objectives that are easily measured (Clayton, 1991; Slavin and Madden, 1991; Stringfield, Billig and Davis, 1991; Fagan and Heid, 1991; Miller, 1992).

Chapter 1 is up for reauthorization again in 1993. Partly in preparation, the U.S. Department of Education is undertaking a number of evaluations of various aspects of the program to assess the quality and delivery of services and to identify exemplary programs and practices. This evaluation plan includes a mandated longitudinal study that will compare the effects of Chapter 1 programs on students over time using other programs and regular instructional programs as comparisons. This and other evaluation plans are summarized in Plisko and Scott (1991).

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