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  • by Blaine Helwig

Why is Effective Title 1 School Reform Not Happening?

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Federal and State money flows into the Title 1 public schools. The river of money flows regardless of academic results each school year, without interruption. But, the majority of Title 1 elementary schools demonstrate the same stagnant academic performance as in prior years. At first glance, it does not make sense. With those levels of taxpayer dollars paid to school officials and curricular programs, why is there little change in Title 1 school academic performance? Why aren't concerned citizens marching in the streets demanding better educational outcomes for children?

Why are Title 1 Elementary Schools Not Improving Academically?

There are a number of valid reasons why Title 1 academics have not improved. The list below are the main reasons.

  1. School administrative personnel do not support classroom teachers or they cannot handle classroom management issues efficiently, effectively and proactively. It does not take more than 10 to 12 consistently disruptive children to effectively hamper the academic climate at a large elementary Title 1 campus. The marginal discipline cases ‘feed off’ this small handful of disruptive children until a chaotic environment exists. However, a severely, atypical disruptive (e.g. undiagnosed emotionally disturbed) student, for example, will result in the loss of one administrator and a counselor every school day until the child is diagnostically tested and placed in the correct educational setting. This process can take as long as 6 to 7 months. With that personnel constantly occupied, there is little administrative personnel to address marginal to moderate student support issues in the classrooms.

  2. District leadership fails to hold campus administrators accountable in improving the school’s academic performance, and an ineffective school administrator is often permitted to remain at a Title 1 elementary campus for a sustained period of time. Or in an opposite sense, district leaders also afford Title 1 principals tremendous autonomy with little associated accountability for academic student performance. Hence, an ineffective administrator can remain at an elementary Title 1 campus for decade or longer.

  3. School administrative personnel do not specifically know what curriculum to implement to academically improve their school. The school faculties care greatly. They want to improve their school, but since there is not institutional transformational knowledge, a shotgun approach persists. Too many fads and programs that have not demonstrated change are implemented – some programs competing with each other. The end effect is an inefficient dramatic loss of instructional time in too many classrooms – with far too many children possessing prior grade level academic skill gaps that remain unaddressed and unresolved in the schoolwide organizational scatter.

  4. Central office curriculum departments have been granted too much control of campus curricular decisions. Despite job titles to the contrary, these departments lack personnel that have experienced tangible and realized academic success in the Title 1 schools. Unfortunately, central office administrators often advocate new or recycled curriculum fads that maintain and preserve the status quo.

  5. University professors, influential parents, teacher unions, education advocates and non-profit organizations frequently exert political pressure on senior district administration. These organizations possess agendas that are more concentrated on furthering their organization’s needs than improving the academic performance of Title 1 schools.

  6. The lack of political power of parents with children enrolled in Title 1 schools is a major factor. Title 1 school parents are more often than not single parents or recent immigrant families facing challenging economic conditions. Their first priority is to feed and clothe their family and pay monthly rent. Occupied with personal financial concerns, they trust the school’s teachers to help and take care of their child. If their current school is not performing academically well and they desire to enroll their child in a higher performing academic school, their options are often limited due to geographic and financial issues as well as transportation constraints.

  7. The fourth estate is not overly active in applying accountability on school officials for stagnant academics. Quite often, newspaper reporters do not overly involve themselves in Title 1 school academic issues. Frankly, it is not a flashy story. They are more interested in scandals and school personnel misconduct – high interest stories that sell the news. So, those types of stories usually receive more emphasis; whereas, struggling academic school ditties are neglected or ignored. Ironically, if a Title 1 school is performing well academically, reporters still do not question officials for expansion accountability. If the programs and methodologies producing academic results at successful Title 1 schools do not originate from central office, there is not an internal incentive to press the practices.

Hence, chronic academic issues in many Title 1 schools have little accountability from external pressures. Consequently, senior district officials do little to press the academic reform that has proven successful. Senior district officials are under varying levels of pressure to placate organizations whose agendas have little regard for the academic reformation of Title 1 schools. As a matter of fact, I have observed these organizations pressing reforms that stifle academic reform in our most needy schools – without intent or knowledge of the detriment.

It has been my experience that the most pressing element of reform in the public school system is campus based. The vast majority of educators in the trenches desire solutions and dramatic improvement for their schools. Again, to facilitate change, campus personnel must possess curricular specifics what will produce dramatic academic change. But, the campus administrator also faces internal political pressure. If the principal possesses institutional knowledge to significantly improve the academics, the administrator must balance the political pressures from the central office curriculum department – and simultaneously implement a curriculum that produces educational equity for the children at their campus. This situation can be a difficult balancing act.

In the end, it is the Title 1 children whose lives suffer the most when chronic school failure is the norm. Title 1 schools enroll our nation’s most needy children – with significant student populations of economically disadvantaged and children of color. However, rest assured, there is no doubt that the lack of Title 1 academic performance will deter federal and state taxpayer dollars from continuing to flow to the school districts.

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