ESEA’s 50-Year Legacy: Blending Idealism, Policy Tensions

In honor of the fact that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed 50 years ago this month, Alyson Klein at Education Week has a lengthy article out describing its legacy and the current challenges related to passing a re-authorization of the bill (whose most recent version was passed in 2001-2002 as No Child Left Behind).

Following are some excerpts from the article:

Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act outside the former one-room schoolhouse in rural Texas he’d once attended. The new law dramatically ramped up Washington’s investment in K-12 education, carving out a role for the federal government in educating the nation’s poorest children.

But shortly after that cinematic ceremony, administrators in the U.S. Office of Education-the predecessor of today’s separate, Cabinet-level department-found themselves with a difficult task.

They needed to write-and enforce-regulations that would ensure states and districts sent the federal dollars to communities with the highest concentrations of poverty and used the money appropriately. And while state and local governments were happy to cash the federal checks, many weren’t nearly as receptive to federal direction.

. . .

How should the next iteration of the ESEA tackle the political puzzle of the right federal role in K-12? Policymakers may not find an answer anytime soon.

Although congressional lawmakers are eager to rewrite the current law, some doubt whether a highly partisan Congress can advance a major initiative on education, or anything else. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has less than two years remaining, and it’s unclear if the next administration—Democratic or Republican—will continue with the waivers or come up with its own twist on the ESEA.

“What’s happening now is that mistaken policy is being cleaned up,” Mr. Jennings said. “People will want to throw everything out.” The problem, he said, is that “we’re going to throw out the good with the bad. We need another vision.”

To read the full story: