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Samuel Halperin, Education Policy Leader of Great Society Era, Dies

By Alyson Klein — May 06, 2014 3 min read

By guest blogger Christina A. Samuels

Samuel Halperin, a longtime leader on education policy who was among the architects of landmark federal laws of the 1960s and was seen as a mentor to a generation of policy experts, died May 6 in Washington. He was just four days short of his 84th birthday.

Trained as a political scientist, Mr. Halperin cut his political teeth in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of the team that ushered through the social service and education policy initiatives that were part of the administration’s Great Society program.

He served as the assistant U.S. commissioner of education for legislation during the development and passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 and, beginning in 1966, as a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the forerunner of today’s separate departments of Education and of Health and Human Services.

He also helped craft the Higher Education Acts of 1963 and 1965.

In 1969, after leaving federal service, he initiated education staff seminars that brought together U.S. House and Senate aides in programs that not only taught them about specific policy areas, but also allowed them to get to know one another better. That program later became part of the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership, which he served as executive director from 1974 to 1981.

Nonpartisan Outlook

In 1993, Mr. Halperin founded the American Youth Policy Forum, a professional-development program for federal policy aides that provides information and field experiences related to youth development.

Betsy Brand, the executive director of the AYPF, said that when Mr. Halperin approached her in 1998 about taking a leadership role in the organization, he was in part drawn to her previous experience in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, where she served as the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education in the U.S. Department of Education.

The AYPF “was created as a nonpartisan organization, and Sam took that very seriously,” Ms. Brand said. “AYPF is known as a very good convener in terms of getting people together without getting too stuck in their own positions.”

Martin J. Blank, the current president of the Institute for Educational Leadership, said of Mr. Halperin: “It was in his nature as a person to try to build those relationships.”

‘The Forgotten Half’

From 1986 to 1993, Mr. Halperin was the study director of the William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship. As a part of that work, he was responsible for development of the commission’s major studies, “The Forgotten Half: Non-College Youth in America” and “The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families” (1988), along with three dozen research reports and monographs on youth development, school-to-careers transition, and national service.

In 1998, he edited “The Forgotten Half Revisited: American Youth and Young Families, 1988-2008.”

Remembered as a Mentor

Mr. Halperin was born May 10, 1930, in Chicago, and earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in political science from Washington University in St. Louis. According to a 2005 article written in the university’s alumni publication, he then started teaching political science at Wayne State University, in Detroit, in 1957 and won a 1960-61 congressional fellowship from the American Political Science Association.

Mr. Halperin served as a mentor to a generation of education policy experts, said Jack Jennings, the founder of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy and a former Capitol Hill aide who has his own long background working with legislation such as the ESEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the HEA.

When he first met Mr. Halperin, Mr. Jennings was a 24-year-old subcommittee staff director for what was then the House Education and Labor Committee.

“I think I learned from Sam that it’s just far better to be bipartisan—even if you have strong feelings, you should be polite to people and understand their point of view,” said Mr. Jennings. “That is an attribute that served people very well in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s an attribute that is missing today.”

Editorial Intern Alyssa Morones contributed to this article.

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