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Hard Work for Good Schools: Facts Not Fads in Title I Reform

Despite billions of dollars spent on Title I programs, there has been little serious research into why Title I money isn't producing larger gains since the 1980s.
--Gary Orfield, The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University

Title I, the largest compensatory education program for impoverished public schools in the U.S. for more than a third of a century, is up for reauthorization this year by Congress. The program--which helped narrow the racial gaps in educational achievement in the 1960s and 1970s--has been strongly criticized since the Congressionally-mandated Prospects study reported no academic gains for the national sample of Title I students which it tracked. Critics of Title I point to these failures and call for a radically different approach, while supporters argue that proper implementation of the law could produce substantial gains

Hard Work for Good Schools: Facts Not Fads in Title I Reform, edited by Gary Orfield and Elizabeth H. DeBray, is the most serious collection of new research on Title I since its inception in 1965. Commissioned by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, these studies challenge many common assertions about Title I, and call into question some of the basic assumptions underlying the education reform efforts of the last two decades. They also contribute solid evidence about educational gains and underscore the civil rights implications in this legislation. This report argues that the major issues being debated between the administration and Congress are extremely unlikely to produce real gains and that much better results are possible with intelligent focus on the evidence of what actually works and vigorous administration of the law.

Major findings conclude that:

  • State accountability systems that fail to look at performance of minority and low-income students do not produce the appropriate kind of accountability.
  • Decentralized teacher development of curriculum in poor schools may actually produce losses in student achievement over the longer term; these schools are overwhelmed and benefit much more from social service supports.
  • Class size reduction in the early grades is an intervention that is positively associated with growth in poor students' test scores.
  • Although socioeconomic status is still the foremost predictor of student achievement, reformed instructional practices can produce significant gains. Curriculum is central to improving the educational opportunities of Title I students, but better assessment and sustained efforts of retraining are also needed.
  • Concentrated poverty in both schools and neighborhoods is a central educational problem that lowers student achievement. The prevalence of poverty in students' neighborhoods is as strong a factor in student achievement as is the individual student's own socioeconomic status.
  • The role of the local school district in assisting schools with the selection and implementation of schoolwide projects, whether locally or externally developed models, appears to be a critical factor in implementation success.

Hard Work for Good Schools: Facts Not Fads in Title I Reform
New research on Title I including the work of top scholars in the field: James M. McPartland, Johns Hopkins University; David Grissmer and Susan Bodilly of RAND; Gary Natriello, Teachers College; Robert E. Slavin, Johns Hopkins University; and Gary Orfield, Harvard University.

About the Editors:

Gary Orfield is Professor of Education and Social Policy at Harvard University, teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government. He is codirector of The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, a think-tank started in 1996 to tackle issues of civil rights policy and enforcement. Elizabeth H. DeBray is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a research assistant with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE).

For More Information

Contact Michal Kurlaender at 617-496-6367 or Christine Sanni at 617-496-5873