Education Reform Law

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Education reform law

Education reform law


Education and the Modern Presidency

The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in 1932 marks the beginning of what many scholars call the modern presidency. As a direct result of the Great Depression and World War II, the size and scope of the federal government increased dramatically. Along with that increase, came an expansion of the power and stature of the president in the domestic policy arena. When coupled with the increasing sophistication and technological demands of the American economy and the nation's postwar ascendancy in world affairs, the time was ripe for greater federal intervention in American education. Asserting that a right to an education was among the so-called new rights that should be guaranteed to all Americans, FDR's greatest contribution to the American educational landscape was setting the G.I. Bill of Rights into motion. Eventually this piece of public policy would see well over 2 million returning veterans attend colleges and universities. Though the “right to education” was later rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court and deemed instead a “privilege,” the momentum for increased federal investment and involvement in education was growing quickly. (McCluskey, 2007)


While the rapid growth in the American economy certainly increased the level of attention paid to education by the federal government and the presidents, it was the growing intensity of the Cold War that proved to be the real impetus for federal intervention. Noting both the need for greater technical capacity and the assumed ideological benefits of increased levels of education for thwarting communism, President Truman sponsored bills in 1947 and again in 1949 that would have begun providing federal aid to pre collegiate education. Both times, however, Congress rejected the attempted “intrusion” into education policy by the national government in the name of the Constitution and states' rights. However, on October 4, 1957, everything changed. (Berube, 1991)

The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, and thereby beat the United States into outer space. Not only did this event exponentially increase the magnitude of the cold war, but it also provided an acute sense of urgency within the ranks of American social and political leadership. Although not particularly interested in the education question, President Eisenhower grasped in short order that something needed to be done to counter the fear and loss of confidence that was enveloping the American people. Calling the situation an “emergency” that required an unprecedented federal response, he pushed American educators and educational institutions to respond forcefully and immediately to the challenge of the Soviet Union's technological edge. Joining the emerging conservative chorus in decrying “progressive education,” the administration pushed for increased attention to the hard sciences and technical education in American schools and universities. In 1958, The National Defense Education Act was passed. This Act increased federal spending on education in the form of low-cost loans for students pursuing degrees in the chosen fields. In keeping with precedent, though, Congress explicitly prohibited any semblance of federal control within the educational institutions ...
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