Education Chat

The Changing Role of the U.S. Department of Education

Christopher T. Cross, former assistant secretary for educational research and improvement under President George H.W. Bush, discussed how the federal role in education has changed over the past 25 years, and how that role might evolve in the future.

The Changing Role of the U.S. Department of Education: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Oct. 18, 2006

Guest: Christopher T. Cross, author of Political Education: National Policy Comes of Age and former assistant secretary for educational research and improvement under President George H.W. Bush.

Rebekah Lewis (Moderator):

Welcome to today’s online chat on how the federal role in education has changed over the past 25 years, and how that role might evolve in the future. Today, federal involvement in education includes specific programs, such as Reading First and the No Child Left Behind Act, and also influences broader issues like teacher education, closing the achievement gap, and education funding. We’ve already received many questions on these and other topics for our guest, so let’s get started!

Question from Patricia R. Lang MA, Educator:
In the United States Constitution, Education was not a responsibility given to the Federal Government. Why do you think the Federal Government should have any “say” in education? Is it as it looks, a money issue, the Federal Government wants to gather more power through the use of MONEY.

Christopher T. Cross:
There are still serious debates about the issue of the constitutionality of the federal role. Yes, I do believe that the federal government has a legitimate role to play since an educated citizenry is certainly essential to a viable nation. Since people do move from state to state and since an educated citizenry is essential to a democracy, all of those are factors to consider, to say nothing of the economy.

Use of the appropriations authority under the consitution (you don’t have to take the money) has bee the biggest lever for the feds.

Question from Dr. Pam Johnson, Director, Adventure of the American Mind Online Education Program, Education and Research Consortium, Asheville, NC:
How does national policy interact with state policy on the impact of technology in changing teaching practices and student learning?

Christopher T. Cross:
There really is no national or federal policy on technology. There are some smaller programs in ED, but Congress and the Administration have never really dealt with a federal view on that matter.

Question from Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education:
Do you think that the evolving focus on policies aimed at improving the quality of our teaching force will continue and move from almost a sole concentration on professional development (in-service) to more stringent quality controls for pre-service education (admission and exit requirements), together with substantive reform of the content as well as structure of pre-service programs?

Christopher T. Cross:
A great question, Sandra, and one that is at the heart of the disconnect in policy between the K-12 world and the higher education world. Unfortunately, both Congress and the executive branch operate in stovepipes that rarely permit the kind of discussion across sectors that needs to occur for there to be major changes in federal programs and policy. There is also a question of reach. The federal role in higher education is even more distant than in K-12 education. Unless Congress provides authority through something like the ability to recognize accrediting agencies, there is little that can be done other than thru incentive grant programs that would focus on the issue of quality controls for admission and exit. It is also true that the marketplace among colleges is a major factor. With several hundred teacher prep programs, there will always be some--usually many--with low admission and exit standards.

Question from Bonnie Swan, Research Assoc., University of Central Florida:
While much emphasis with teacher quality has been on how to find and equitably place teacher, teacher turnover is a growing problem. What can be done at the federal level to support an overall improvement of the management of state-labor resources?

Christopher T. Cross:
An interesting question. If one looks at the barriers to teacher mobility between states, they almost always come down to issues like portable pensions and the peculiarities of state licensing requirements. There is in the mid-Atlantic area, an effort run by the Mid-Altantic Teacher Project to treat these as regional, not state-specfic issues. For example, they have instituted a Meritorious New Teacher credential that is good in several states. That’s a good start, but more can be done.

Question from Sandra Millsaps, TSA, Curriculum & Instruction, Cobb County GA School System:
Will there be national standards in content subjects? How do you forsee No Child Left Behind chaning or modifying? Is No Child Left Behind a political issue and if parties change it will go away?

Christopher T. Cross:
I don’t believe that a change in control of Congress will undue NCLB. Two of the biggest supporters of NCLB, Ted Kennedy and George Miller, would become chairs of their respective Senate and House committees. There is also substantial support from many in the civil rights community for NCLB.

As to national standards, I don’t believe we will see those being created and mandated by the feds. I can seed the potential for incentives to use national standards created by content areas, but there will be a major debate before even that happens.

Yes, there will be some changes to NCLB, but at the margins, not the core. For example, it is possible that sanctions for years 2 & 3 (choice and tutoring) might be reversed, as has been done on a pilot basis.

Question from Luis Chavez, Director, Puente Project - University of California:
What has been the results and challeges in providing supplemental educational services to schools and what role will SES providers play in the future?

Christopher T. Cross:
There was a recent GAO audit on SES that you can obtain through the GAO website. It is quite informative.

SES providers and services are here to stay. However, states must do a better quality comntrol job.

Question from Janet Kerber-Lindstrom, Mother, Home for two special education children:
The OIG has just published its final inspection report on the management, administration and policies of Reading First, to include DIBLES, established under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The indication is that ethics may have been left behind in educating millions of our nation’s young learners. Leading national and international reading organizations are outraged and have called for further investigations, to include revoking all Reading First grants. Please explain your position on this matter and how parents can possibly have their children learn to read in public education when it appears greed and cronyism was put ahead of Americia’s children. I now pay for private tutoring so that my sons learn to read thanks to Reading First which entitled our school district to receive reimbursement but seriously failed scientific measurement and my sons did not learn to read. What is the recourse of a parent like myself?

Christopher T. Cross:
There is much more to be known on the Reading First issue. The ED IG will issue 2-3 more reports later this year and there will be a GAO report early in ‘07, so I feel that we don’t yet know what we need to on this issue.

Reading First was about proven programs and putting them in schools. Any parent has the right to challenge an administration and school board and ask them for the evidence that a program has scientific evidence of its effectiveness. You should do so.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
You have worked in the area of Title I. So surely you are aware of the wide disparity between black/white scores on standardized tests, particularly at the secondary level. In many districts this disparity is widening....not getting better. How can NCLB help to rectify this humongous problem?

Christopher T. Cross:
The notion behind NCLB is that by rquiring the disaggregation of scores by race, ethnicity, etc., that a community will then be able to focus on the isssue. Despite the controversy, it is fair to say that in most of the nation, NCLB has highlighted the issue. What remains to be done is creating the capacity of states and local districts to deal with the issue and to know what works or shows high promise of working. The Dept. of Ed. is working on that issue in several ways, some of them quite new.

Question from Deanna Enos, retired elementary teacher:
My question is how do we insure that the federal intervention into schools using a core knowledge approach does not become propaganda passed on as education?

Christopher T. Cross:
I would urge you to ask questions of school administrators and the school board. That is why they are there.

Question from Carrie Chiappetta: Stamford, CT Public Schools:
In many other countries, if not all other countries, the job of a K12 teacher is highly valued and respected. This is not the case here in this country. What is being done to address this here in the USA?

Christopher T. Cross:
There are a number of things being done, such as the TAP program, so create higher status and better career ladders for teachers. There are on-going efforts,such as National Board certification, aimed at distinguishing teachers who have achieved a standard.

However, in the end it is our society that must value the contributions of teachers as being as important as that of doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Raising the bar on who can enter the profession might make a major difference. Teaching has to be seen as a job that is hard to get and that requires a great deal of study and preparation. That willmake a mmajor difference.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center (ACC), Little Rock School District:
At the beginning of NCLB, there was much local talk about NCLB mandating many changes for the local school districts without adequately funding those changes. With the reality that the federal government has the best system of collecting taxes, the IRS, what is the potential that in the future more federal funding will support the NCLB recommendations?

Christopher T. Cross:
Without the community will, without a culture that says that these children will succeed and we (the adults in the system and in the community) are here to make that happen, then simply adding dollars will not be a majic solution. Yes, there should be more federal money. But, no, that should not be seen as the solution.

Question from Lupita Tannatt, Ph.D. Workforce Development Consultant, LAUP Los Angeles Universal Preschool:
Given what is known about early brain development, the increasing need for educare (developmentaly appropriate care and education)and the cost effectiveness of quality early experiences for children, what do you (Dr.Cross) see as the primary obstacles for federal funding of universal preschool similar to the funding commitment for national optional kindergarten?

Christopher T. Cross:
Again, part of the obstacle is bureaucratic. HeadStart is in the HHS, other education progarms in ED. They are authorized in different laws, often by different committees. It is also true that we are unlikely to see a federal mandate for preschool since there are some cultures and religions that don not support that.

In the end, the greatest iobstacle is probaly funding. Having a federal program would take billions of new dollars. The research in this area is good, the will is missing.

Question from Renae Szad, NC Prinicipal Fellow:
What has been the history of the US Dept of Ed’s stand on homework historically? In light of the continued research and oppositions v benefits, how do you see the philosophy evolving in the future?

Christopher T. Cross:
This has never been an issue addressed by the feds and I hope that it never is! The last thing we need is for homework to become a political issue.

Question from Cheryl A. Brewer, High School Teacher & College Faculty:
Do you see a day when our high schools are a more project based technology centered curriculum?

Christopher T. Cross:
I do believe that the area of technology is one that will be addressed in the future in some substial ways. Yes, I do believe that we are moving to an aera when high schools will use it more for project based work, but that cannot be a substituet for the imparting of knowledge by teachers. It should be a way to acheive that goal.

Question from David Ziegler, Social Studies Teacher, Charles Herbert Flowers High School:
How many people are employed by the Department of Education?

Christopher T. Cross:
The last time I looked about 4400. I stand to be corrected.

Question from Valeri L. Reaves, President, The Institute for KIDS:
Although “No Child Left Behind” had good intentions, the manner it which it has been carried out seems to have created a new set of problems. Some of the problems include the following: teachers teaching “the test” and, as a result, leaving out important curricular studies; teachers feeling pressures to produce sound results in test scores creating stressful environments and failing to take the time out to bond with their students; teachers giving up (simply going through the motions or “punching the clock”) and/or leaving the industry all together creating an even greater shortage of educators. How visible are these problematic results of “No Child Left Behind”? How are the results of “No Child Left Behind” being measured? Are there any published studies that are accessible to the public? and, most importantly, What steps are being put into place to correct these issues?

If these questions cannot be answered in the forum, it is requested that a response be sent to me directly at Thank You!

Christopher T. Cross:
There ared several studies underway of NCLB and one such report was published earlier this year by ED. Another report will be issued in the new year, both can/will be found on the ED website,

The issues that you arress are visible and often discussed in Congress and in ED. Many of these will take a change in the law.

The teaching to the test issue is one that escapes me. If students are being taught waht are in the state content standards, that should assure that they do well. Two weeks ago, I spend several days in the Garden Grove, CA schools. I was very pleased to see the way that children were being taught. Every classroom had the standards posted and children knew what standards was being taught that day and what quality of work was sufficient to be proficient, advanced, etc. Not one teacher there punches the clock.

Question from Graham Oleson, Senior Honors Thesis Research, University of California, Santa Barbara:
How did the National Defense Education Act of 1958 under President Eisenhower impact classroom instruction?

Christopher T. Cross:
NDEA placed a much greater emphasis on the teaching of math, acience and foreign languages. It also introduced technology--language labs--into many schools. It also instituted a serier of professional development programs for teachers that had a substantial impact on those subjects areas.

Question from gareth Davies, Lecturer in American History, University of Oxford:
Dear Chris,

Has the Education Department’s capacity to act independently of the White House declined since 1979?

gareth Davies

Christopher T. Cross:
A question from England. Good evening, Gareth. Yes, I am reading your manuscript!

Your question is an interesting one. In many ways, the creation of the Departemt of Education in 1980 placed education at the federal government in the spotlight so that the issue, and hence the agency, became more important politically. That has meant more “oversight” by the White House and OMB.

In the Reagan Administration, ED was constantly under the eye of the White House, largely becuase its very existence had been a campaign issue. After “A Nation at Risk” and then when Bill Bennett became secretary, that attention from the White House became less intense.

In the Clinton Administration, the relationship between Dick Riley and Clinton meant that thered was a great deal of freedom at the agency, although it was hardly immune from scrutiny. In the current Bush Administration, Ed has been very important to the WH, but since Secreatary Spellings arrived, less under WH control, in my view.

Question from Dr. Robert A. Levin, Senior Consultant, TeachFirst, Inc.:
What prospects do you envision for profit-making entities that promote professional development and student learning to qualify for the kinds of government and foundation grants that you anticipate seeing in the next three to five years?

Christopher T. Cross:
By law, foundations may not make grants to for-profit organizations and I would not expect any change there. Federal programs have been opened to the for-profit sector in many areas and several have succeeded. For example, one of the new regional labs is, I believe, run by a for-profit.

The key here is competition. If that opens avenues to success for students at the federal level, I believe we will see those options expand.

Question from Lisa Ross, Federal Policy Director, Pre-K Now:
As more and more states (41 + DC) offer publicly-funded pre-k to their students and a number of states offer it to all children or are moving in that direction, what role do you envision for the US Department of Education to assist, guide, or support states in the area of pre-k education?

Christopher T. Cross:
There has been a great deal of rearch funded by the feds, and will continue to be funded. As to programs, there will likely be some incentive programs down stream that will encourage more students and states to participate, but I would not expect, not would I want, federal mandates.

Question from Alan Ruby, Senior Fellow for international Education, U of Penn:
Chris when you look at other nations that do not have federal education departments, do you think they have lost opportunities that the US has been able to exploit?

Christopher T. Cross:
Alan, good to hear from someone with an Aussie accent.

What is remarkable about national like Germany and Canada, which really don’t have ministries of education like the one in DC, is the degree to which the lander/territories meet together to coordinate what does happen. Yes, they may have lost something, but by not having the issue politicized at the national level, they may also have some advantages that we do not.

Question from Diane Hanfmann, Parent,and teacher, Palm Beach County School District:
Could you please address the neglect of the gifted students by the public schools as they face the pressures of NCLB? Would you comment on the idea of equity and excellence? Thank you.

Christopher T. Cross:
The issue that you raise is of great concern to many. How does society respond to the needs of tjose who are gifted? There have been some small federal programs in that area, but they have never gotten much attention or support since the prevailing feeling has been that the federal role is to support the needs of special populations. The private sector has done quite a bit here and new federal programs directed at expanding use of Advanced Placement and adding a supplement to Pell grants for students that succeed in a rigorous high school math and science program are some recent small steps.

Question from K Laba, Research Associate, RMC Research:
Education professionals know that changing teaching practices is a necessary, complex and daunting effort. It appears that many Federal efforts propose to identify best/promising/ effective practices, disseminate them, then expect that teachers will implement them. Are there better ways the federal energies can be put to work to promote change in instruction?

Christopher T. Cross:
Yes, there are ways. The federal government could support the expansion of the capacity of states and loacl districts to actually provide the technical assistance and training to implement these programs/approaches. Thet is one of the great gaps at the federal level.

Question from Dr. Matthew Delaney-NBCT, Educational Leadership Adjunct, Nova Southeastern University:
Looking back several decades, it is apparent that the political tenor set by the national leadership during each era deeply influenced each of the educational movements that have come and gone. A parallel concern notes that conflicts between the extent of federal power and states rights also extend well back into our history. Despite the broad scale of acceptance, NCLB has illustrated that the power of the federal government to authorize and support change may be more limited to control of education-related funding issued to the individual states than enforcement of mandated standards. Do you anticipate that more states will consider opting out of federal support for education related to NCLB after the close of this present administration?

Christopher T. Cross:
When states are faced with the reality of opting out, the reality of what that would mean in lost financial support always trumps rhetoric. I have yet to see a chief, a governor or a state legislature willing to raise state taxes to support their ideological position. I suspect that neither a change in Congress or in the White House will affect that.

Question from Miles Myers, ISCA, Los Angeles:
The current accountability system is one in which the State and the Feds mandate what (standards) and how (textbooks, pacing guides) to teach and then hold teachers and school sites responsible for results of those mandates. Why not have one national test every years specifying the what and let the schools and districts decide the how?

Christopher T. Cross:

Having a national test is something that I don’t expect to seed in my lifetime, but then, again, I am 66.

As you know NAEP is supposed to be the benchmark for states and that is why its use was expanded in NCLB. Remarkably, states and voters seem to shrug off data showing that their own standards are substantially different that those shown by NAEP.

On the other hand, holding people accountable for the results seems intellectually like the right thing to do. Engineering such a system is tough. As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.”

Question from Jim Kohlmoos, President, NEKIA:
Chris, How has the federal research and development enterprise in education changed since you were at OERI? Has the current Institute for Education Science strengthened or weakened the federal role in school improvement and education reform? Why is the funding for education R&D so meager compared to the investments in R&D by other federal agencies?

Christopher T. Cross:

A whole series of great questions. I will try and answer what I can.

1. In the past 15 years, the federal role in research has moved almost exclusively to the side of control group/gold standard research. That was a needed change. The question that I have is what are we missing by this change, such as policy research? There is also a great deal of ambiguity about the evaluation role in ED.

2. When IES was created, all of the innovation and improvement programs were transferred to another part of ED. While some of that was appropriate, it did leave IES without a stake in the area of implementation.

3. Education research has always been tremendously underfunded. We have yet to make the case as to how important it is. I recall a conversation 30 years ago with Harley Dirks, the clerk for the Senate Labor-HEW appropriations committee who when asked that question by me, said “No one ever died because of the lack of education research” and then proceeded to pump tons of money into NIH. If I had been quick enough, I shoudl have retorted, “Kids are dying in school becuase we are not education them as we should.” Hindsight is wonderul!

Question from Robin LaSota, Technical Advisor, Center on Innovation and Improvement:
How can federally-funded national content centers and regional comprehensive centers better respond to the accountability demands posed by current educational trends in NCLB and other federal mandates?

Christopher T. Cross:
I believe that they can help by providing more hands-on assistance, by creating what a friend of mine calls Playbooks; detailed guides that show a district/school how to move from here to there. They can also establish networks of districts that can work together on common problems. In most states, these are things for which the state agency is usually understaffed.

Question from Martha Menefee, Principal, Holly Hill Elementary School:
Title I Funds do not always go where they are needed the most. The Ohio Department of Education’s Federal Division’s employee with whom I spoke told me my only recourse is to go to my local board of education. I’ve gone to my superintendent; however, going to the local board is not the proper venue for me to take. I have to “make enemies” of my superiors and constantly debate with them in order for my school’s children to have what they need--and even though I try, students still do not have what they need. Although our F/R Lunch percentage is lower than, for example, an inner-city Cincinnati, OH, school, our 47% is more than enough to make a huge difference in the way we deliver education. If I could retire and go on the road to get the word out that Title I Funds should be more closely regulated, I would do it in a heartbeat. Any advice?

Christopher T. Cross:
The formula for allocating Title I money at the state level is based on Census figures. I have to assume that the issue is somehow related to the data being used by the state for intra-state allocation.

Within a district, funds should be going to first to schools with the greatest percentage of poor students. I am unclear as to whether your issue is o at the state or district level.

Question from Miles Myers, ISCA, Los Angeles:
The NCLB requirement that scores be disaggregated has focused attention on the achievement gap. From the point of view of teachers, the Achievement Gap has been turned into a game of “Blame the Teachers.” Will the federal government return to giving more attention to Opportunity to Learn Standards, requiring adequate OTLs to get federal money?

Christopher T. Cross:

I doubt that we will ever seed a return to that term, OTL. I do believe that by pointing out the achievement gap, that what it should do is create focus in a community and assure that the teachers with the skill and exoerience required are teaching those students who most need assistance. In many ways, a focus on how teachers are assigned is an element of OTL.

Question from :
In Alabama, where more than 80% of school districts remain under federal court order to desegregate schools, school “choice” under NCLB is virtually non-existant . Louisvill, Ky and Seattle, Wash are defending voluntary desegregation efforts in the U. S. Supreme Court. Will the “New Politics of Education” result in Ed’s OCR (Office for Civil Rights)being less active (if that is at all possible)in its role of ensuring provision of equal opportunity, given its present decline in enforcement actions under both Title VI and general civil rights statutes which are designed to desegregate Ameirca’s schools.

Submitted by:

Ronald E. Jackson Executive Director Citizens for Better Schools P. O. Box 190280 Birmingham, Alabama 35219 (205) 478-7183

Christopher T. Cross:
A great question. I am just not as familiar with the issue as I would need to be to respond to your question. As the recent EdWeeK stories on both cities point out, this is a very complex issue and one that will finally be resolved in the courts.

Question from Marco Antonio Hernandez,parent,Lakeland Elementary School in Norwalk, California.:
Our school District is small. Our school is small also. Bilingual program sill alive only in our school in the whole District. According API & AYP records, our school is not getting advance (this year -6 points in API!). The Superintendent helper of this District made a diangosis about our school: The problem are the english learners students. This year is the 1st in PI in our school. How NCLB make justice to test our hispanic students and how we can develop advance in Arts of Language?

Christopher T. Cross:
At least your superintendent has identified the problem as being the fact that English language learners are not doing well. Now the issue is, what can they do that is better. Take a look at districts around you, like Garden Grove and Long Beach, and see what they are doing to improve the performance of their English language learners. I am willing to bet, that you will learn a great deal.

Question from Robin LaSota, Technical Advisor, Center on Innovation and Improvement:
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is considered to be a more rigorous test of student achievement than most state tests, by some leading assessment experts, yet is only administered to a small random sample of students nationally. Do you foresee the adoption of a national achievement test in core academic subjects, rather than continuing with the predominant system of state standards and testing? Perhaps after 2014?

Christopher T. Cross:
I doubt that we will seed NCLB expanded so that all students take it. One of the issues is that it is a matrix sampling test so that students take only a small part of it and then the scores of all students are aggregated for that state. Part of the reason for that is becuase having every sudent take all sections would be far too burdensome.

However, there are things that could be done short of that, such as embedding some NAEP questions in state tests.

Question from Ray Phelps, North Hardin HighSchool Radcliff, Ky.:
Even though the Constitution does not provide for federal involvement; I think the writers intended federal govt. to be involved. The govt. got deeply involved during the 60’s-80’in order to keep up with advanced nations,primarily Russia. Do you feel that the federal government is dictating too much (NCLB, trying to get vouchers) in the name of human rights, now. Are they hurting student learning by demanding too much of school systems and teachers without adequate funding.

Christopher T. Cross:
Part of the reason that the Feds passed NCLB was a feeling that the states were not doing enough to address issues like the achievement gap, and, in my view, that is a human rights issue. While many feel that the funding is inadequate, it is also fair to ask states why it took a faderal law to highlight this issue.

Question from Todd Clark, Deputy Bureau Chief, FL Dept of Education:
You talk about the role of the National Board in improving the status of teachers. What about the role of colleges and universities with teacher preparation programs?

Christopher T. Cross:
I could not agree more. Colleges and universities have a major role here and far too many have their heads in the sand. School leadership also has some of the blame. When was the last time that a superintendent called in the dean/deans of the schools providing the majority of their teachers and said, “Here is what we need. Tell me how we can help.”

Question from Lina Musayev, Graduate Student at the George Washington University School of Public Policy and Public Administration:
Dear Mr. Cross, Do you think that the federal role in education will be decreased and if not, will the federal government pay more attention to how the policies will be implemented in schools at the local level and how? The local level always finds loopholes because the present policies do not work for certain districts. As you see now, many schools are struggling because the federal policies do not work for them.

Christopher T. Cross:
I don’t forsee a decrease in the federal role. I do. hoever, believe that much has been learned through NCLB about the failure of the feds to address issues of capacity and leadership. People in DC are listening to what is being said and I believe will act to deal with the issues that can be addressed in law. It is clear that they will not accept excuses, but will listen to constructive ideas that focus on success.

Question from Patrick Allen, Former Teacher:
Has the WH and USDOE seriously considered the negative impact of NCLB and the subgroup concept? I understand the idea behind it, but a small population of students have caused a high performing “A” or “B” school to be considered not making AYP. Yes, they get a provisional label but the stigma is still there.

Christopher T. Cross:
This is an issue that is understood. However, the response is “So what are you going to do abouut it?” Yes, there are things like missing the 95% rule by 1 student that seem extreme, but failing to address the needs of a subgroup is not going to be accepted.

Question from Victoria Seibert, parent advocate for families with children with special needs:
How is the role of the federal government changing in regards to meeting the needs of children with special needs via highly qualified teachers? Would you describe any efforts towards the syncopation of NCLB, IDEA, new teacher standards, and preservice programs?

Christopher T. Cross:
This is an area still in flux and one that I believe will be addressed in NCLB and again in IDEA,. It is also the perfect example of the ways in which we have craeted stovepipes in law that fail to adress reality. NCLB & IDEA were enacted at different times and many of the players were different. That must stop and we must work out answers to these and related issues that are in the best interests of the children being served.

Question from Donald N. Bigelow,ret after almost 40 years at USDept of Education, began with NDEA in 1960. 20 yrs college history teacher at Amherst and Brandeis and Columbia Universities.:
Hello and Greetings, Chris:

I am writing a serious proposal declaring that--except for student loans and grants-- all federal funds administered by the De-partment of Education will be used for the education of all schoolteachers beginning now and concluding when every school in the country has enough professionally trained schoolteachers. This requirement is to take effect asap, by which time schoolteachers will have had a liberal arts degree and an appropriate graduate degree in teacher edu-cation.

Furthermore, states will administer this program. The central thesis is that all pre-school teachers must first have a liberal arts degree before getting professional training on how to teach and learn the tools of the trade in a graduate school of education.

My question, Chris, is whether such a proposal as this is too crazy to even talk about in view of many vested interests not only for existing federal programs but also because of the pervasive tradition of teacher education--which is the fly in the ointment of all efforts at school reform. This proposal offers teacher education an easy way out of their unfortunate develop-ment and traditional but unsuccessful way of teaching teachers.

This proposal offers a chance of genuine school reform over time--probably a long time, but today it is almost as hard for a student “to get an education” as it was when federal aid to education began. Isn’t it time to change the aprroach?

Christopher T. Cross:

It is good to hear from you, far too many years since we last met.

Your proposal is an interesting one. However, the reality is the political process will never get us away from the creation and proliferation of categorical programs, unless you can figure out how to attach 535 names to the title of your proposal! Is is also true that the body political is just too impatient. Congress and the executive branch--as well as their state counterparts--love to pull things up by the roots. That is a habit not likely to be broken!

Rebekah Lewis (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this informative online chat. A special thanks to our guest, Christopher Cross, for responding to so many of your diverse questions.

This chat is now over. A transcript will be posted shortly on

The Fine Print

All questions are screened by an editor and the guest speaker prior to posting. A question is not displayed until it is answered by the guest speaker. Due to the volume of questions received, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer any questions. Concise questions are strongly encouraged.

Please be sure to include your name and affiliation when posting your question.’s Online Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We do not correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone.

Please read our privacy policy and user agreement if you have questions.

Chat Editors