• by Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 1997
A teacher sighs in frustration as another group of students leaves for an assortment of pull-out sessions. She wonders, When I am going to have time to ensure that they are learning necessary skills and concepts?
A principal and several teacher leaders are excited because they have identified the professional development program that will most likely support their school in making dramatic strides toward greater student achievement. Then someone asks, “How will we manage to pay for this?” The mood of the group dampens as they acknowledge that their Title II funds are inadequate to cover the cost of the program.
A parent receives a letter from the district’s Title I coordinator. The letter asks him to participate in a planning meeting on Monday. He has also received a request to help plan the new Title VII proposal on Tuesday. The parent wonders, Why are these meetings separate? Will one meeting relate to the other?
In July of 1995, the Improving America’s Schools Act became law. This federal legislation provides new opportunities for schools, school districts and states to coordinate education programs in ways that lead to less duplication of services, less fragmentation of efforts and greater focus on improving student achievement. Scenarios such as those listed above should become increasingly rare as educators become aware of the new opportunities to coordinate funds and programs.
Many of the opportunities for increased coordination are provided for schools that become Title I schoolwide programs. In general, these are Title I schools where 50 percent or more of the students meet free or reduced-price lunch criteria. These schools must engage in an extensive planning process to become schoolwide programs. As schoolwide programs they have tremendous opportunity to combine and coordinate funds and programs. Schoolwide programs are relieved of many of the requirements of most federal programs, as long as the intent and purpose of those programs are met. Thus, schoolwide programs have the opportunity to define a set of programs, policies and procedures that will most likely result in every child achieving high academic results. Then, a variety of federal and state resources can be combined to find the necessary activities. There is no longer a need for programs to be distinct, separate or categorical.
The opportunity for coordination does not in any way diminish the responsibility for promoting the academic success of various groups of children. As schools plan schoolwide programs they must first ensure that the needs of migrant students are addressed. Similarly, schools must plan strategies for providing timely additional assistance to students who demonstrate difficulty during the school year in mastering state standards. The new law does not mandate separate programs. However, it does require that schools plan in ways that respond to the unique needs and strengths of all groups of children.
School districts and state agencies have other important opportunities to promote the coordination of funds and programs. They can create consolidated applications that articulate new relationships among various federal programs. School districts can apply to their state education agency to consolidate administrative funds from several federal funding sources. This flexibility enables school districts and state agencies to break down the walls that have separated various special programs from each other and from the general education program. Even in institutions where flexibility has not been explicitly provided in the law, there is broad waiver authority that allows the U.S. Secretary of Education to waive laws and regulations that impede schools as they seek to serve all students well. In essence, educators have the opportunity to refine their focus and renew their commitment to supporting the academic success of all students.
The potential benefits of the Improving America’s Schools Act (improved achievement for all students) will not appear miraculously on the doorsteps of educators. Teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and other educators will need to work diligently to make good use of the flexibility the law provides. If teachers continue to bemoan the fragmentation of the school day created by a multitude of pullout programs, it will not be the fault of the federal legislation. If principals cannot access various federal fund sources to support innovative professional development or state-of-the-art technology, or if parents continue to be confused and frustrated with programs that appear duplicative, wasteful and uncoordinated, the problem cannot fairly be attributed to federal regulations. We, as educators, have more flexibility than ever to use our resources to create strong learning environments for all students. It is our challenge and responsibility to use that flexibility well.
Dr. Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. is the site director for the STAR Center at the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The STAR Center is a collaboration of IDRA, the Dana Center and RMC Research Corp. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]