Of my 12 years in public education, 11 have been spent in Title I schools. When I was given the opportunity to lead a school that had a large economically disadvantaged population but that had not been designated as a Title I campus, I did not give much thought to the idea that the two campuses might be different. It wasn’t until I spent time leading a non-Title I school that I realized the stark differences between the two types of campuses.
What is a Title I School?
Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides supplemental federal funding to state and local education agencies to help schools with high concentrations of students from low-income homes acquire additional education resources. These resources are to be used to improve the quality of education programs and to support economically disadvantaged students (Title I students) in meeting state academic standards. Thus, a Title I school is a school that receives federal funds to support the academic achievement of Title I students.
Depending on the percentage of Title I students, Title I schools can implement either a school-wide program or a targeted assistance program. Schools are eligible to use Title I funds to operate school-wide programs that serve all children in the school if at least 40% of the student population comes from low-income families.
Access to Resources
My Title I campus had an 80% economically disadvantaged student population and a Title I budget of approximately $250,000. We had enough money to purchase almost every resource imaginable, but the guidelines for spending these funds are stringent. Purchase requests were closely scrutinized by the district’s Federal Programs Department which meant requests had to be submitted well in advance of resources being needed. This also meant that, at times, I would end up frustrated because materials the campus felt would enhance academics could not be purchased with Title I funds.
Because there were no Title I spending guidelines to contend with on my non-Title I campus, there was much more leniency in spending; however, the campus budget allocation was only $38,000. The campus relied heavily on fundraising and grants to supplement its budget which created additional work for staff who were responsible for collecting and counting fundraiser money and writing grants. It also caused me to study every request for resources.
As the Title I principal, I made big item purchases without worrying about not having money to buy everything students needed. As the non-Title I principal, I had to spend more strategically which meant sometimes saying “not right now” to staff requests for materials.
Title I campuses are required to designate 1% of the total allocation for parental involvement. At my Title I campus, this money was used to purchase materials for academic nights and other after-school events parents were invited to attend. The campus hosted parents after school once per month because a) almost all parents worked and were unable to attend daytime events and b) we were focused on getting parents involved in both academic and non-academic activities to strengthen the parent-school connection. Staff at the Title I campus accepted that after school events were a normal part of working in a low-income school and didn’t question why there were so many late activities; there was just the understanding that the activities had to happen after school if we wanted parents to be a part of their children’s education.
The non-Title I staff preferred to have almost all activities during the school day, and the idea of adding additional evening events to the calendar was met with contempt. The staff strongly felt that most parents would be able to attend events during the day, so they did not see the need to add after school activities.
That’s not to say there weren’t any after school events, as there was a very active PTO that hosted two events, and there were two academic events that were hosted by the staff. However, most activities were held during the school day and were attended repeatedly by the same parents, which unfortunately meant there were always students whose parents could never attend.
Attitudes about State Testing
Receipt of Title I funding without state interference (school improvement, corrective action, or restructuring) is contingent upon students’ satisfactory performance on state assessments. This created an urgency on the Title I campus that was not felt on the non-Title I campus. Teachers on both campuses wanted students to succeed, but at the non-Title I school there was no stress to make sure students made adequate yearly progress and reached the highest levels on the state assessment. If they did, it was amazing and definitely a reason for celebration; if they didn’t, there was no worry that the state would eventually take over.
Teachers at the Title I school became expert data miners and assessed students often, unlike teachers at the non-Title I school who only occasionally gave assessments and weren’t nearly as comfortable having conversations about data.
Having experiences in both Title I and non-Title I schools has strengthened me as a leader and better prepared me to assume a district-level role one day by causing me to examine various aspects of a school through completely different lenses. I encourage all educators to step out of their comfort zone at least once to experience the other side!