Courtesy Hartford Courant, Josiah H. Brown

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Thursday, June 24, 1999










Josiah H. Brown, who grew up in Hampton, is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-3rd District) and currently chief of staff to the president of the New School in New York.









Lately vouchers, whether public or private, have attracted particular attention in the debate over education.

From judicial decisions on their constitutionality to scholarships spawned by financier Ted Forstmann and disputes between New York's mayor and schools chancellor, vouchers are highly controversial, though they will not have broad effect for at least several years.

Charter schools are more popular but inflammatory, too, as of course is busing -- politically, a non-starter in Connecticut following the Sheff v. O'Neill verdict.

The Clinton administration recently proposed public school choice via Title I aid to local districts. Also recognized are the need for better teachers, stiffer standards, technology and school construction.

Virtually ignored, in Connecticut and around the country, is one federal education program that works: Upward Bound, to which I was introduced in 1991 through a summer job.

Not to be confused with Outward Bound, Upward Bound is among the TRIO (originally there were three) mechanisms assisting low-income students. As the White House and Congress weigh related legislation and insist on local accountability, this well-tested model should be a priority in the competition for dollars.

More than two decades before mentoring became a familiar buzzword, TRIO (established under the Higher Education Act of 1965) was nurturing disadvantaged kids who would not otherwise have aspired to higher education.

The Talent Search unit begins counseling promising students in the sixth grade; Upward Bound, which includes classes in English, math and science and features a six-week summer school, is the bridge from high school to college. The approach is comprehensive, involving parents and one-to-one interaction with staff.

My experience was with UConn Upward Bound, serving impoverished cities like New Haven and Hartford. As an English tutor, I worked with 10th-graders to develop their analytic and writing skills and vocabularies. Although individuals' performance and motivation varied, each student progressed significantly during the six weeks.

The summer session in Storrs was like an academic camp, with field trips, extracurricular activities and a shared dormitory life that fostered a warm sense of community. On the last day, many of the high-schoolers -- and some of my fellow tutors -- were in tears as we said goodbye.

Full-time staff continued to work with students throughout the year in this sustained effort.

The impact of Upward Bound, and of companion programs that follow through college, is evident. Upward Bounders are four times more likely to earn an undergraduate degree than those from comparable backgrounds who don't participate in TRIO. One New Haven teen that I knew, for example, went on to Yale -- the same university from which the UConn Upward Bound director, himself a product of the program, had graduated.

Despite this proven record, only about 7 percent of the eligible population have access to TRIO. In 1998, 321,000 students were served through Talent Search and almost 50,000 through Upward Bound, at a cost of $95 million and $201 million, respectively -- what the Pentagon routinely spends for a few fighter planes.

President Clinton's budget rightly calls for federal investments in areas such as child care and teaching. But money devoted to one purpose often comes at the expense of others. As the president and members of Congress push new educational projects or savings accounts, the existing successes, including TRIO and the more acclaimed Head Start, should be acknowledged.

A relatively modest infusion of dollars would enable TRIO to operate on an appropriate scale. The president's plan would boost its spending by 5 percent next year, yet still just a fraction of eligible students would be served.

While ensuring that efficiency and accountability are preserved, why not double the program, or at least match the $120 million increase proposed for the new GEAR UP initiative, which is similar to Talent Search?

Let's support what works. Whatever the outcome of the voucher debate, for the students who benefit directly from TRIO -- and for all of us -- the rewards would endure.