Education Leader, Citizens’ Advocate, And Professor John W. Gardner Dies

By David J. Hoff — February 27, 2002 1 min read

John W. Gardner, one of the architects of the educational and other social programs enacted as part of the Great Society initiatives of the 1960s, died Feb. 16 at the age of 89. He had prostate cancer.

Mr. Gardner was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s secretary of health, education, and welfare from 1965 until 1968. He assisted the Johnson administration in winning congressional approval of legislation that still constitutes the framework for the federal role in aiding K-12 schools and helping students pay for college.

His department was also responsible for enforcing educational institutions’ compliance with the protections against racial and other discrimination established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mr. Gardner’s biggest accomplishment in education, according to one of his colleagues in the Johnson administration, was helping to ensure the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. That landmark law in the history of federal aid to education created the Title I program for disadvantaged students and instituted a variety of smaller programs.

“That piece of legislation has lasted all of these years and steadily gotten more money,” said Harold Howe II, the U.S. commissioner of education from 1965 through 1968. “It’s still there, and it’s done some useful things.”

In January, President Bush signed the latest revisions to the act.

Held Carnegie Posts

But education was only one section of Mr. Gardner’s portfolio in what was then the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Mr. Howe noted. Mr. Gardner was also instrumental in starting the Medicare program, for example.

From 1955 until his Cabinet appointment, Mr. Gardner simultaneously served as the president both of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a foundation that helps support education and other social-policy areas, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In 1970, Mr. Gardner founded Common Cause, a citizens’ advocacy organization that has pushed for such causes as campaign-finance changes and open-records laws. In 1977, he started Independent Sector, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that promotes volunteerism and community involvement.

For the past 10 years, Mr. Gardner was a professor of public service at Stanford University, his alma mater. He also taught in the university’s school of education.

A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2002 edition of Education Week as Education Leader, Citizens’ Advocate, And Professor John W. Gardner Dies