Federal

ESEA’s 40th Anniversary Begins to Draw Reflection

By Michelle R. Davis — March 22, 2005 4 min read

Over the past 40 years, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act has evolved from an effort primarily aimed at providing general aid to schools with large populations of disadvantaged students to a complex undertaking that includes a long list of education prescriptions for states.

A panel discussion here last week that included former and current federal policymakers as well as academics took a look back at steps the landmark law has taken to reach its current form.

Although the March 15 event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was billed as a look at the history of the ESEA, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next month, most of the talk was of its latest incarnation: the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige said that while previous versions of the federal law contained many good ideas, they often were not put into practice when states and school districts found them difficult to implement.

“The trend was, they don’t get it done,” he said. “Every time there was some kind of discomfort, there were applications for waivers and efforts to make changes.”

The difference between the previous versions of the law and the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind Act is that President Bush’s administration has insisted that states comply with the law’s accountability measures, said Mr. Paige, who stepped down as education secretary in January at the end of the president’s first term.

“We had to break this culture of delays and waivers,” he said.

Mr. Paige said that under his leadership, the Department of Education made it clear that states must fall in line, and that they have. The result, he maintained, is that the achievement gap between most minority students and their white peers is closing.

“It’s very important we keep a culture of carrying out the intent of the law,” said the recently departed secretary, who has joined the Wilson Center for a six-month appointment as a public policy scholar to study the achievement gap.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee who had a hand in crafting the law, said that while many people would like to see the No Child Left Behind Act altered, that is unlikely to happen before the next reauthorization, which is scheduled for 2007.

“Politically, No Child Left Behind has sufficient support to stay in place,” Rep. Castle said. Significant changes to the law, he said, are “simply not going to happen under President Bush.”

Embracing the Concept

Bills proposing federal education aid to the states failed numerous times in Congress during the first half of the 20th century. It wasn’t until Lyndon B. Johnson—a former teacher—became president that a major program of federal aid to K-12 schools won passage, an essay by Don Wolfensberger, the director of the Congress Project at the Wilson Center, points out. In his 1965 State of the Union Address, President Johnson said the top item on his agenda was “a program to ensure every American child the fullest development of his mind and skills,” according to Mr. Wolfensberger’s essay, released at the conference.

From left, Don Wolfensberger, Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., Rod Paige, Elizabeth Debray, and former Rep. John Brademas weigh the impact of the ESEA at 40.

President Johnson said the education legislation would contain a program for assistance to students from low-income families—which ultimately became the Title I program. The bulk of federal education help, Mr. Johnson assured Americans, would go to schoolchildren from needy families.

On April 11, 1965, President Johnson signed the ESEA into law, authorizing $1.3 billion (in 1965 dollars) in general aid to the nation’s elementary schools.

Although over the decades, Congress has provided an increasing amount of money for precollegiate education, not enough progress has been made in student achievement, Rep. Castle said.

“We have poured a lot of money [into the public school system],” he said. “Frankly, the results might not be all that we’d wish for.”

The No Child Left Behind law set about tackling the problem of achievement gaps between minority and white students, he said. Mr. Castle said it was significant that while some Republicans had lobbied to abolish the Education Department as recently as a few years ago, under President Bush both GOP and Democratic politicians have worked together on education legislation.

At first, Mr. Castle said, “Democrats embraced the concept. … Republicans embraced their president” when it came to the law.

Former Rep. John Brademas, a Democrat from Indiana who was a co-author of the 1965 ESEA and is now president emeritus of New York University, noted the “depth of partisanship” in Congress now. He called President Bush “the most radically right-wing president of my lifetime.”

That’s why, Mr. Brademas said, it is significant that the president put forward the No Child Left Behind Act and has made it such a cornerstone of his domestic policy.

But some states are looking to buck the law, introducing legislation that would blunt its impact. Though Mr. Paige said he believes states should comply, he said he supports the right they currently have to opt out of the law, at the cost of giving up their federal education funding.

“If states don’t want federal money and they find these requirements intolerable, they should be free not to accept it,” he said, “but I would feel sorry for the children.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
Family Engagement for Student Success With Dr. Karen Mapp
Register for this free webinar to learn how to empower and engage families for student success featuring Karen L. Mapp.
Content provided by Panorama Education & PowerMyLearning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

[2021-2022] Founding Middle School Academic Dean
New York, NY, US
DREAM Charter School
Hiring Bilingual and Special Education Teachers NOW!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
DevOps Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Senior Business Analyst - 12 Month Contract
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Federal Biden Announces Goal to Get Educators the COVID-19 Vaccine This Month
President Joe Biden pushes states to get educators at least one dose by the end of March to help schools resume in-person learning.
4 min read
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
John Battle High School teacher Jennifer Daniel receives her COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11, 2021. Teachers received their first vaccine during an all-day event at the Virginia Highlands Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Federal Explainer Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education: Background and Achievements
Background and highlights of Miguel Cardona's tenure as the twelfth U.S. Secretary of Education.
Education Week Library
2 min read
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 23, 2020.
Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, speaks after being put forward for the position by then-President-elect Joe Biden in December 2020.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Federal Senate Confirms Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary
The former Connecticut education commissioner got his start as an elementary school teacher and was a principal and school administrator.
2 min read
Miguel Cardona, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks after being introduced at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.
Miguel Cardona was confirmed by the Senate to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education. The former Connecticut education commissioner has worked as a teacher, principal, and district administrator.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Federal Biden Legal Team Steps Back From Trump Stance on Transgender Female Sports Participation
The Education Department's office for civil rights pulls a letter that said Connecticut's transgender-inclusive policy violates Title IX.
4 min read
Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins the final of the 55-meter dash over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, far left, and other runners in the Connecticut girls Class S indoor track meet at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn on Feb. 7, 2019. Transgender athletes are getting an ally in the White House next week as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports. Attorneys on both sides say they expect President-elect Joe Biden’s Department of Education will switch sides in legal battles that could go a long way in determining whether transgender athletes are treated by the sex on their birth certificates or by how they identify.
Bloomfield High School transgender athlete Terry Miller, second from left, wins over transgender athlete Andraya Yearwood, far left, and other runners in an event in New Haven, Conn. The two transgender athletes are at the center of a legal fight in Connecticut over the participation of transgender female athletes in girls' or women's sports.
Pat Eaton-Robb/AP