ESSA and Title I Spending: Dispelling Four Common Funding Myths

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While the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the law of the land, many conversations about ESSA and Title I funding still end with a tilt of the head, a shift of the eyes and an, “I understand, but can we do x, y, z?”. There is more flexibility on the allowable use of these funds than before, more than many district leaders may realize. In discussions with district partners we discovered four common myths about both ESSA and Title I funding.

Myth 1: Selecting “evidence-based interventions” requires multi-year randomized control trials.

It’s a common misconception that “evidence-based” interventions, as outlined in ESSA guidance and Title I funding requirements, are too difficult to identify and implement. Needs assessment and ongoing implementation measurements are essential components of ESSA and Title I funding allocations. As stated in the Department of Education guidance on using evidence to strengthen education investments, “selecting evidence-based interventions that SEAs, LEAs, and schools have the capacity to implement (page 3),” is key. In reference to Title I specifically, funds require the use of “evidence-based” interventions that meet higher levels of evidence (page 7).

The  levels of evidence outlined by ESSA are as follows:

  • Strong: Experimental studies with large sample and positive effect.

  • Moderate: Quasi-experimental studies with large sample and positive effect.

  • Promising: Correlational studies with statistical controls and valid sample.

  • Demonstration: Well-designed logic model with efforts to identify effect.

The core research designs facilitated by LearnPlatform’s IMPACT Analysis (the research-driven framework for rapid-cycle evaluation), generate the types of evidence that education organizations need to meet ESSA requirements.

Myth 2: Selecting evidence-based interventions is enough.

A significant portion of the Department of Education guidance on using evidence to strengthen education investments is in “examining and reflecting upon how the intervention is working (page 3)”. Identifying interventions is only half of the equation. Having a plan or solution in place to measure and follow up on implementation is important and strengthens federal funding requests.

Education organizations across the country use IMPACT Analyses to conduct ongoing measurements and evaluations of the implementation and subsequent effectiveness of school, district or state-wide solutions. These Analyses help them understand:

  • The costs of edtech initiatives;

  • The extent to which edtech products are being used; and

  • The impact that the edtech products are having on education outcomes.

IMPACT Analyses are an increasingly valuable component of state funding plans as a quick, simple, dependable way to satisfy federal reporting requirements and ensure that the funding is used for implementations that work and meet predetermined goals.

Myth 3: Title I funds can only be used on math and reading instruction.  

This a common misconception on what Title I funds can be used for due to the numerous interpretations of the wording in the “allowable use of funds” section of the usage guidance. Title I funds can be used toward any school subject identified as in need of improvement. These funds can even be used for school-wide technology or support solutions determined during needs assessment. Identifying what needs improvement and supporting it with definitive data is key. ESSA guidelines also place significant emphasis on identifying and finding solutions appropriate for various subgroups of students. IMPACT allows you to flexibly define subgroups of interest based on your needs and filter the results based on the respective categories. This provides more nuanced evidence on the effectiveness of educational interventions for given subsets of students based on factors such as demographic variables (e.g., gender, ethnicity), family income (e.g., free or reduced-price lunch status), prior achievement, or educational context (e.g., grade level, school type, urbanicity).

Myth 4: Title I funds must go exclusively towards teacher training.

When ESSA rolled out, education organizations were afforded new flexibility in the way Title I funds could be used, allowing dollars to be more freely allocated. As stated in the Department of Education guidance on the use of funds for a provision of the ESSA, a Local Education Agency (LEA) can use funds, subject to the 15 percent special rule, to, “build technology capacity and infrastructure, which includes procuring and ensuring quality of content, and purchasing devices, equipment and software to increase readiness (page 35).”

The guidance further stipulates that funds can be used to support evidence gathering and analysis in order to support educational research and innovation. ESSA gives districts flexibility in their expenditures when they provide evidence that supports instructional technology decisions that are designed to raise the achievement of low-performing students. Organizations, including those applying for school improvement grants or using Title I funds, must demonstrate this evidence for funds eligibility at the four levels (strong, moderate, promising and demonstration) (see myths 1 and 2).

"ESSA gives districts spending flexibility when they provide evidence that supports instructional tech decisions." - CLICK TO TWEET

Ultimately, the reports and dashboards generated through LearnPlatform’s research-driven framework for rapid-cycle evaluation help education organizations demonstrate and document evidence that:

  • Directly aligns with ESSA guidelines;

  • Assists in needs identification for selecting evidence-based interventions; and

  • Facilitates easy rapid-cycle evaluations of the efficacy of implementations.

All of this makes it easier for schools, districts and states of any size to make evidence-based, data-driven decisions that also comply with federal reporting requirements.