In the early 1980’s, I was out of money, and I could not continue my engineering studies at the University of Texas at Austin. However, I discovered if I was a member of the armed forces, I could not only remain in college, but the United States military would pay my annual tuition and books. I enlisted for an 8 year commitment in the Army/Air Force Reserves. The first summer, I was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for Basic Training.
While at Ft. Sill I was involved in training classes to understand all aspects of military life – bivouacking, weaponry, 15 to 20 mile hikes, marching drills, guarding tanks, etc., etc. etc. However, one training class was particularly interesting since human behavior was involved with regard to an enemy’s advancement on a fixed, fortified position. The drill sergeant systematically placed a small group of soldiers in foxholes that formed a perimeter designed to repel borders against an enemy offensive. During the training exercise, the drill sergeant shouted, “If the enemy attacks your position and they are unsuccessful, what can be expected on their next attempt?” I was 21 years old at the time and many of the other recruits were younger yet. We were all equally clueless on an answer to the sergeant’s question.
The drill sergeant became frustrated with our ignorance and screamed, “The enemy will change their tactics!” Of course, I thought! That made perfect sense. The enemy’s advance on our perimeter was repelled. They had not accomplished their objective. They will reevaluate the situation. They will not repeat the same ineffective advancement strategy.
Title 1 Principals Are Usually Not Deterred by Poor Academic Success - Past or Present
With absolute consistency, the mass of Title 1 elementary schools in this country repeatedly demonstrate a lack of academic success. Despite that fact, each July and August, Title 1 elementary principals evaluate, analyze and discuss their school’s prior year academic results with their instructional teams. Their objective is to determine their next strategy for academic betterment in the upcoming school year. So, a typical administrative meeting ensues with the overriding objective to determine a strategy to the basic query, “What can be done to increase student performance after another anemic academic performance?”
It has been my professional experience that little of substantive value derives from these meetings, so there are not significant changes that alter a campus’s academic plight from the previous school year to the upcoming school year. An interested and investigating fourth estate should ask the following question, “Why does student performance not appreciably improve at the vast majority of Title 1 elementary campuses?
Why do so many Title 1 Elementary Campuses Continue to Academically Perform Poorly?
There are reasons – valid reasons for continued poor academics at Title 1 elementary campuses. A short list of some of the primary reasons are enumerated below.
Many principals do not precisely know what dramatically heightens student academic outcomes at Title 1 elementary campuses.
If non-entry level campus principals do not produce heightened student outcomes at their campuses, they are rarely held professionally accountable. Consequently, most principals are incentivized to not press or implement effective reform.
Frequently, Human Resource officers do NOT advocate removing principals from Title 1 elementary schools despite sustained poor academic student performance. Removal may invoke legal disputes over contractual issues as well as arduous professional placement problems at another campus.
It takes focused commitment and effort to dramatically improve a Title 1 elementary schools. If there is no professional accountability, intrinsic motivation is the only pressing factor. Hence, there is a high probability that the campus will adhere to status quo compliance.
A Title 1 elementary principal must understand that the fundamental issue to heighten student outcomes is effective student management and rectifying students’ academic literacy and numeracy gap. However, the principal must ALSO possess problem solving and organizational skills to set-up a viable campus system. If they do not possess these two skill sets – and they will not request assistance from those that do – the probability of improvement is extremely low.
If the district curriculum department and external advocacy groups possess significant influence of campus curricular programming implementation, it is likely their influence will yield a significant hindering of effective academic reforms.
What is the Reason a Few Title 1 Elementary Campuses Perform Academically High?
It is important to note on the above list that high poverty rates, additional monies, lack of parent involvement, and inequitable and biased standardized testing were not included as reasons for chronically depressed academic results. That is due to the fact that those elements are NOT the most critical factors to academic Title 1 reform.
In the final analysis, all academic reform begins and ends with the elementary principal. The principal must be willing to act, possess the ability or the confidence to seek assistance, and possess or gain the knowledge to enact substantive reforms at the campus. The minority of elementary Title 1 campuses that demonstrate dramatic and sustained academic outcomes are principals that ‘buck the system’ and implement effective systems and curricular resources (stop-gap and bridge). However, the vast majority of principals may emulate those high levels of success, if they choose to do so.
Principals are provided a tremendous level of instructional and operational autonomy at their campus. Furthermore, once the academic results begin to dramatically increase, the principal is inevitably offered more autonomy at that campus. At that point in the reformation process, the yearly work evolves into the sustaining phase rather than a creating, implementing stage.
For more information on effective reformation of American Title 1 Elementary Schools, visit The New 3Rs Education Consulting for free and immediate downloads of two white papers that provide methodology on dramatic academic turnaround.