Catching Up With ESEA’s Early Advocates
On April 11, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law. The legislation 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. Education Week catches up with three figures who played key roles in implementing this historic law.
Michael W. Kirst
Then: Back in 1965, Mr. Kirst worked in the federal Office of Education in what was then the Department Health Education and Welfare, helping to write and enforce regulations for the new law. States, he said, were generally happy to get new federal money authorized under the law, but weren’t nearly as pleased about what some saw as federal interference.
Now: These days, after having served on the faculty at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., Kirst is the president of the California state school board. The Golden State has had run-ins with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on issues ranging from teacher evaluation and accountability to state data systems. Given his past experience in Washington, Mr. Kirst sympathizes with Mr. Duncan. “He’s facing many of the very same issues we did” in the 1960s, Mr. Kirst says. “This is a nation of states and a nation of local control. … It’s the nature of our federalism that makes this job so hard.”
Then: In 1967, Jack Jennings went to work on Capitol Hill, where he played a lead role in helping to shape several reauthorizations of the ESEA law. Most of the legislation he worked on helped tighten the federal role in ensuring school districts spent Title I dollars for poor students appropriately.
Now: Mr. Jennings left Capitol Hill in 1994. He became the founder of the Center on Education Policy, a research organization in Washington. He is now retired and recently published a book, Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools, which deals with ESEA and its history. “What’s happening now is that mistaken policy is being cleaned up,” says Mr. Jennings of current efforts. “People will want to throw everything out.” The problem, he says, is that “we’re going to throw out the good with the bad. We need another vision.”
Christopher T. Cross
Then: In the early 1970s, Christopher Cross went to work on Capitol Hill, where he helped craft successive rewrites as a top aide for Rep. Al Quie, R-Minn., the top Republican on the House education committee. Mr. Cross later served as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education under President George H.W. Bush.
Now: Mr. Cross is the chairman of Cross & Joftus, a Bethesda, Md.-based consulting firm. He’s also the author of “Political Education: Setting the Course for State and Federal Policy, which was published in 2014. “There was no strategy around how all this was going to work with respect to a process for improving education,” says Mr. Cross of early implementation of ESEA. “It was just, ‘These are poor districts, they need the money. Trust people to do the right thing.’ It’s come back to haunt everybody now.”
Sources: Alyson Klein/Education Week and Connor Smith/Education Week