The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965. President Lyndon B. Johnson saw the need to help schools with students that were struggling, but not dictate how that aid was provided. Title I of the Act stated that grants would be given to schools to help low-income families. The grants would be distributed to the state education agencies (SEA), who would then distribute them to the local education agencies (LEA). The LEAs would then allocate the Title I funds to the appropriate schools, who would spend them at their discretion. Over the years the grants have been spent in a variety of ways, from adding more teachers to classes to purchasing technology to help students learn outside the classroom. However, studies have shown that these methods have limited effects on improving test scores.
“The average class size in Ohio elementary schools is just over twenty-one students to one teacher.”
Many school districts use their Title I grants to add paraprofessionals, teachers aides with limited training, to the classes with struggling students. The objective of the aides is to relieve some of the pressure that is put on the teachers to help the students. This may be the case for the teachers, but for the students, it is a different story. In Tennessee, Project STAR used funds to add paraprofessionals to the classroom. It was found that adding these aides, while giving teachers more time to focus on the students, did not significantly help with test scores. When asked at the end of the study about smaller class sizes or adding aides, 71% of teachers preferred a smaller class size (Boyd-Zaharias and Pate-Bain, 1998).
Another drawback of utilizing paraprofessionals is the varying degree of training they bring to the classroom. In a 1999 assessment of the Title I program, the U.S. Department of Education found that “paraprofessionals in high-poverty schools tend to have less formal education than those in low-poverty schools, and they are often assigned to teach-sometimes without a teacher present.” The report acknowledges their contributions to the community, but also notes that utilizing them as extra hands to do paperwork or meet with parents should be phased out. It does not directly help students improve their skills, which is the function of a Title I grant.
Even with the addition of other sets of hands and additional time for teachers to be with the students, there is nothing that can substitute the benefits of having smaller classes.
Schools add the aides to help manage the ever-increasing class sizes in some areas of the country. This does give teachers the ability to provide a little more attention to students that are falling behind in reading. However, that attention does not translate into higher scores. The additional time added was, on average, just twenty-five more minutes a day over the course of a week (Rowan, B. and L. F. Guthrie, 1989). Even with the addition of other sets of hands and additional time for teachers to be with the students, there is nothing that can substitute the benefits of having smaller classes. Project STAR also showed that when the number of students in a class rose above eighteen, teachers has less time to spend with lower-performing students. This can disproportionately hurt low-income students. According to a 2007 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average class size in Ohio elementary schools is just over twenty-one students to one teacher.
The cost of intervention is much higher, and less effective, than the cost of prevention. Utilizing Title I funds on programs that stop the slide from happening, like Kids Read Now, can give local education agencies and schools more fiscal flexibility. The funds saved can then be used for other programs or technology to help students learn math and reading. There are movements to help that money be used for in-school WiFi and other methods to secure internet access at student’s homes to further reduce learning gaps. What could you do at your school with more funds?