The 24th Street School near Western Avenue in Los Angeles--overcrowded and enrolling more than 90% Latino and black children--is typical of those that benefit from federal aid under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
"About 80% of our children qualify" for the special help, said Principal Anna McLinn, because their scores on standardized tests are below the national averages. The school, with an enrollment of more than 1,500, qualifies for funding because a high percentage of families in the area are on welfare.
The federal aid pays for aides to work half a day in 58 of the school's classrooms. Most of the classroom aides are community residents who do not have a college degree, according to McLinn.
"The teachers are responsible for giving the overall lesson, and the aide can help reinforce the skills in reading or math by working with a few children at a time," McLinn said.
The money also pays for three remedial teachers--specialists in their areas--who work with small groups of children who are having trouble in reading, writing or arithmetic.
School officials say they are happy to have the extra money--about $500,000 a year at the 24th Street School--but they do not believe that the money alone ensures success.
"It gives you a little extra help, a little supplement, but it can't guarantee success," said Elene Meyers, program coordinator at the school.
"I think it's the effectiveness of the school itself that counts," McLinn added. "It doesn't have much to do with extra money or extra programs."
California adds some of its own money to the federal "compensatory education" program, and the Los Angeles district receives about $110 million a year, said Pauline Hopper, the district's compensatory education program director.
Half of the elementary schools in Los Angeles get federal money for remedial education, as do about a third of the district's 73 junior highs. In addition, smaller shares go to 10 senior high schools, 9 special education schools and 54 parochial schools.
Smaller Classes Required
Under a court order growing out of the desegregation battle, the Los Angeles district is also required to have smaller classes in the predominantly minority schools--27 students per teacher, compared to 32 per teacher in integrated or mostly Anglo schools.
The 10th Street School near downtown Los Angeles, another overcrowded facility enrolling more than 1,800 students, gets $805,000 in special funding, enough to put an aide in each of its 62 classes. But since more than 95% of its students are Latino and enter speaking Spanish, most of its outside funding comes through the bilingual education program.
"These are marvelous programs. I don't know what we would do without them," said Principal Edith Vaage.
Her school also uses the extra funds to "enrich" the educational program, by hiring part-time specialists in dance and computers, by offering "multicultural awareness programs" at school and by taking children on field trips around the area.
Education officials say they are pleased by the unprecedented array of programs and services offered elementary schoolchildren.
"When I was growing up in L.A., we had 37 children in a class and never saw an aide. And my parents were poor," said Principal McLinn.
Puzzled by Results
But, at the same time, many of the officials also are puzzled because the effort doesn't seem to be paying off when the students reach the higher grades.
Test scores and other measures of performance have shown a steady rise among younger children in Los Angeles and nationwide. But those same measures have fallen in the junior and senior high schools.
Some officials say that schooling's impact on the older students is limited.
"There are more distractors now--the videos, the rock groups, TV and the sports stars making a million dollars a year," McLinn said. "There is not as much motivation for education."
Hopper, the district's program director, said young children in poor neighborhoods are doing better in reading. "It's not better by leaps and bounds, but we are making progress," she said.
But she too is concerned about the lack of progress in some inner-city neighborhoods.
"A lot of things have an impact on education that we can't control," she said. "Something is happening to kids, and it's not good. We can say it's TV, but I see them out on the streets at night, and they are not carrying TVs."