Title 1, Part A is a governmental initiative that is also known by names like Education for the Disadvantaged — Grants to Local Educational Agencies, or Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged. According to the official website, “the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Federal funds are currently allocated through four statutory formulas that are based primarily on census poverty estimates and the cost of education in each state.”
Simply put, these are grants, provided by the government, for schools which have a majority of their student body hail from low-income backgrounds. In the 2015-2016 academic school year more than 55,906 public schools utilized these funds to provide academic support and learning opportunities to help low-achieving children meet state standards in core academic subjects. They can provide extra instruction or after-school programs using this money to help these students catch up. Around 20% of the program’s money went to grades 9-12- high school.
Part B of Title I is more explicit in stating that a certain portion of these funds are intended for STEM education. This includes hiring more instructors in STEM fields such as basic science and mathematics. This also includes partnerships with non profit institutions and encouraging more students to pursue teaching these topics in the K-12 school system. Foundational knowledge in these areas is often said to be closely correlated with later academic success.
While funding for these schools is a step in the correct direction of equalizing the playing field, a lot of these funds are used in ways that are not the most effective that they could be. As evidenced by a pervasive teacher shortage in the United States, they also are not successful in providing enough incentive for students to pursue teaching careers. It should come as no surprise as teachers in the United States are paid far less than their counterparts in other nations and our schools place much more pressure on teachers to achieve results in students that may poorly equipped to keep up. The United States initially incorporated yearly benchmark examinations to determine which schools are in line with state standards in math and reading. This provided governmental agencies with a marker of whether or not a school and its teachers were doing “well.”
Yet, a lot of instruction in the classroom has since shifted from learning valuable and foundational material to preparing for these benchmark examinations. Simply put, students are learning disparate facts and not the concepts which greatly hinders their understanding of the topic. Anecdotally, I vividly recall that questions that were not directly related to the material we had in class were quickly dismissed in the weeks leading up to such examinations. Teachers are put in a difficult spot. On one hand their students must preform well on these benchmark examinations, but on the other hand these students are also falling more behind because foundational material is not getting taught in an engaging way. There is an epidemic of over-testing in the United States public schools and it is not helping students catch up to their peers.
Year after year these gaps in knowledge can build up into massive holes of foundational knowledge. Once students reach high school, grade levels behind their peers, it is even more difficult to catch up and even more difficult to excel. High schools counselors are often swamped with the responsibilities of hundreds of students. Low grades in a class can often be met with remarks like “laziness” or “not applying yourself” when they are often the result of systematic gaps in knowledge since primary school. Not surprisingly, low-income students are more likely to drop out in the K-12 system as well as in their post-secondary educations. The struggles academically, socially and financially make for an especially challenging experience for students from these backgrounds.
Yet, as precedents have shown, despite the impact that education can have on economic and social mobility, it has not been deemed a fundamental right in the United States. It is a shame, but as a recent court ruling on the Detroit Public Schools show, Judge Stephen J. Murphy III deemed that “‘access to literacy’— which he also referred to as a ‘minimally adequate education’ — was not a fundamental right.”
Not to mention that many of these schools are teaching information to these students with no acknowledgment of what happens outside of the classroom. Many students from low-income backgrounds will, at some point, struggle with demanding jobs, an unstable family situation or even homelessness. School systems, often but not always, do not emphasize the impact that this has on a student’s ability to succeed in an academic setting. Add to this that many schools in low-income districts are falling apart-literally. Images of Detroit Public Schools and from districts around the country paint a troubling picture.
Is funding for schools in low-income communities a bad thing? Absolutely not. But, the pressures placed on teachers and students to receive and maintain the funding only leaves students falling further and further behind. The educational system should acknowledge that over testing does not result in better scores- the added stress can often develop into test anxiety. This test anxiety can carry through someone’s academic career for years without acknowledgement. The funding is a helpful step, but there are systematic inequalities that the funding does not solve. Simply put, we cannot possibly fathom the extent of the silent struggles that many FGLI students face during their academic journey. It sets an unfortunate and dangerous precedent to tell these students, who have had to deal with countless adversities at a young age, that they do not have a right to an equal and appropriate education because of where they live. That is truly a shame.