Educational Equality for All? An Examination of the Efficacy of Title I Under No Child Left Behind

Since the Fall Conference, I have narrowed the scope of my paper from a broad analysis of federal education policy to a specific federal education initiative – Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

ESEA is regarded as one of the most significant and influential initiatives in U.S. education policy.  When President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the law in 1965, ESEA became the first major educational policy at the federal level.  The Title I program within ESEA was one of several initiatives designed to counteract the effects of poverty in society.  Title I therefore established the pursuit of social equality as a federal priority in education policy.  The program sought to improve access to educational opportunities among underserved students in low-income areas by providing these individuals with additional financial resources and services.  During the 1980s, the focus of Title I began to shift toward standards-based evaluations and outcomes.  Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, standards and accountability became ubiquitous components of federal education policies and programs.  Advocates of this standards-based approach argued that establishing expectations for and measures of student performance would allow states to identify low-performing schools and take appropriate actions to improve student outcomes.  This standards framework has been widely criticized throughout the past twelve years for exacerbating the education gap between undeserved children and their more advantaged peers, raising concern about Title I’s ability to promote educational equality under NCLB.

My paper will provide a systematic review of the literature on Title I student outcomes under NCLB.  I propose that Title I has not achieved its intended aim of increasing access to educational opportunities among underserved students since 2001 due to NCLB’s standards-based regulations.  The literature I have reviewed thus far suggests that, contrary to my hypothesis, NCLB has actually produced some gains in reading and math scores as well as narrowed achievement gaps.  However, these improvements have often been overlooked as a result of discrepancies between state and federal accountability measures.  For example, some low-income schools have made gains that meet state standards for improvement but do not satisfy federal requirements under NCLB.  While these findings suggest that standards-based regulations possess potential for improving student outcomes, the next ESEA reauthorization should consider creating federal accountability measures that align with state standards in order to allow schools to accurately gauge changes in student performance and achievement gaps within their local contexts.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the Spring Conference!

Katelyn Lee

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

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