Some Generalizations

Before moving into the concluding sections of the report, I feel it is worth drawing some key generalizations about the evolution of the federal role in education and developments that laid the foundations for the reforms in play today.

Three Eras in the History of the Federal Role in Education

In the history of the federal role in education, there are “eras” that seem pretty clear. The first is from 1965 (or, if you wish, the National Defense Education Act in 1958) to 1980, when you have several important and controversial additions to the federal repertoire in the direction of equity. From 1980 through 1988, we have the Reagan presidency, the second “era.” There is then a transition period under George H. W. Bush, whose inclination was to form a new partnership between states and the federal level but who instead got partisanship as the Democrats voted down his omnibus school reform bill. Thus, he

falls between the second and the third era. That third era began in earnest with the presidency of Bill Clinton in 1993. From that time to the present, we have a unifying policy goal: standards-based education reform, spanning a Democratic President, then George W. Bush, a Republican, and Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Conditions for Change

The expansion of the federal role in education that began in 1965 coincided with the escalation of the civil rights movement, a mostly healthy economy, and a Supreme Court that, after a 10-year sleep, was ready to expand the authority of the Brown decision by asserting that the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause required the courts to guarantee equal rights in education. During this time, savvy grassroots movements pressed for women's rights and the rights of children with disabilities, and Latino families demanded to see their cultures in their children's schools. This context helped these equity efforts, but still they weren't easy. Still, as James Patterson (1996) argues, the liberal agenda prevailed partly because a majority of people in the United States believed that the country could afford these reforms and that a rising tide would lift all boats.

Congress as the Arena for Advocacy and Compromise

Congress, especially the House of Representatives, was the arena where different interests and different regions began the process of advocacy and compromise. In the case of Title I, Congress spent most of its discussion time debating how the money was going to be divided, not on how the Title I classes might succeed. The resulting compromises ended with too little money spread over too many districts. These compromises were necessary for passage in Congress but impaired the program once in the field.

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