Hawkins Leaves Legacy on Accountability

November 15, 2007 1 min read

In the 20th Century, Congress was more likely to name a law after a couple of its members than a campaign slogan. In 1988, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Augustus F. Hawkins-Robert T. Stafford Elementary and Secondary Schools Improvement Act.

Hawkins, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee at the time, died this week at the age of 100. The obituaries I’ve read (see here and here) highlight Hawkins’ work on labor and civil rights. But he played a significant role in requiring schools to prove that their students are improving academically.

The 1988 law that bears Hawkins’ name required schools and districts to document the change in achievement levels of students in the Title I program. If Title I students didn’t show academic progress, their school needed to write a plan to help them improve. In schools where Title I students’ scores didn’t rise, the district would write a plan to improve the school. (See this summary of the bill.)

Today, the law looks tame compared with NCLB. The amount of testing is small and the accountability is soft compared with the current law. But one could argue that the small steps in 1988 were necessary building blocks for NCLB.

For more background, see this Education Week profile of Hawkins from 1989.

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.