The federal government spends $14 billion a year boosting funding for schools with low-income families, but most of that taxpayer funding is wasted, a new paper says.
For 60 years, that funding has come from Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known in its current form as No Child Left Behind. The funding averages roughly $500 to $600 per student per year. Nationwide, the average amount spent per public school student is $12,000, so the funding bump from Title I is fairly small. That bump pays for only 10 hours of teaching a year for a student.
To be effective, the federal government either needs to spend more on the program or ensure the money is going toward effective uses, according to the paper, authored by the Brookings Institution's Mark Dynarski and Kirsten Kainz.
"There is little evidence that the overall program is effective or that its funds are used for effective services and activities," Dynarski and Kainz write. "Large proportions of school principals report using Title I funds for teacher professional development, which many studies have shown to be ineffective and which teachers do not find valuable. Other services on which principals spent Title I funds include after-school and summer programs, technology purchases, and supplemental services, which also have been shown to be ineffective, and class-size reductions, which are unlikely to be of the size needed to generate effects found in previous research."
More than four in five principals who get Title I funding spent at least some of the funds on professional development. But there is no evidence professional development programs are effective, according to an August 2015 report from the New Teacher Project. The Institute of Education Sciences, an arm of the Department of Education, also found no evidence that professional development improves student learning.
What hurts Title I's effectiveness is how widely spread the funding is, Dynarski and Kainz say. If the funds were targeted toward fewer students or services with proven effectiveness, the funding might work better. With the number of students it currently targets, the federal government would have to increase Title I funding by up to eight times as much as it spends now to be effective.
Dynarski and Kainz also suggest the learning gap between wealthy and impoverished students could be solved by more state and local intervention instead of federal funding. "Federal spending does not need to eliminate the gap," they write. "K-12 education is primarily a state and local function and will continue to be."
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.