Political Education: National Policy Comes of Age
reviewed by Philip I. Kramer - 2004
The creation and implementation of public policy in America is complex and involves individuals and organizations representing many different constituencies (Sabatier, 1999). According to some scholars (e.g., Kingdon, 1997), policy is influenced by the interests of policy entrepreneurs who respond to the confluence of problems, policy streams, and opportunities for solutions. Christopher T. Cross devotes a considerable portion of Political Education: National Policy Comes of Age to describe the influence individuals and organizations have had on federal educational policy since the end of World War II.
The book is interesting and informative. It provides an excellent historical account of the constantly changing political and educational landscape and how the different political and educational environments have affected federal educational policies. The book will prove useful to many students of federal educational policy who are interested in the evolution and expansion of federal education policy in the last 50 years.
Cross begins the book with an unfortunately brief and simple “policy primer” intended to serve as a tutorial on “how federal education policy is developed” (p. xiii). It would have been useful to expand this policy primer into a chapter of its own.
Chapter 1, Setting the Stage: The Early History, briefly chronicles early federal educational policy. The chapter begins by discussing the creation of the nation’s military academies, the passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and enactments of the first and second Morrill Acts. The chapter ends with a discussion of the importance of the G. I. Bill and the influence of the Progressive movement in public education immediately following World War II.
Chapter 2, The Truman and Eisenhower Years: Impact Aid and NDEA Pass; Construction Support and General Aid Fail, begins with an examination of the enactment of the Impact Aid Act during the Korean conflict, the monumental U. S. Supreme Court decision of Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, and President “Eisenhower’s decision to call for a White House conference on education” (p. 8). The chapter ends by tracing the national alarm set off by the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik in October 1957 and the impact race and religion had on education policy.
Chapter 3, The Kennedy and Johnson Years: Failure and, Finally, Success, explains how religion (including Presidents Kennedy’s Catholicism) and desegregation were the “twin issues” (p. 19) that limited “the federal role in support of public schools” (p. 19) in the early 1960s. Cross next explores the influence Johnson’s Great Society had on federal education including the establishment of the national education laboratories, the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the passage of the Higher Education Act.
Chapter 4, The Nixon, Ford, and Carter Years: From Trust to Nailing Everything Down, depicts the education policy of 1970s as a time when school busing dominated other educational policy issues including the amendment of the Higher Education Act, the enactment of the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (i.e., Pell grant) program, and the enactment of Title IX. Perhaps the most interesting section of this chapter is Cross’s description of the political machinations that ultimately led to the creation of the Department of Education.
Chapter 5, The Reagan Years: The Bully Pulpit and Loosening the Strings, portrays President Reagan’s administration and congressional Republicans in their effort to reduce federal red tape as well as federal financial support to individual states and school districts. According to Cross, Reagan’s administration may be best well known for its effort to dismantle the Department of Education and for commissioning, A Nation at Risk (US Department of Education, 1983), “the bully pulpit for the federal role in education” (p. 78). Chapter 5 also characterizes William Bennett, Reagan’s controversial Secretary of Education.
Chapter 6, Two Bushes and a Clinton: Remarkable Bipartisanship Expands the Federal Role, outlines President Bush’s plans at the
Chapter 7, Leaving No Child Behind, written by Paul Manna, is a detailed account of the passage and significance of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The NCLB act “contains nine titles and 45 separate authorizations that extend from fiscal year 2002 to 2007. It runs more than 1,000 pages and includes major provisions regarding testing, [Adequate Yearly Progress], teachers, and funding and flexibility, which further deepened federal involvement in the nation’s schools” (p. 138).
In Chapter 8, Lessons Learned from a Half-Century of Federal Policy Development, Cross summarizes some of the major lessons that have “characterize[d] the development of education policy” (p. 144). According to Cross, one lesson is that the primary federal role in education is to ensure equity among the nation’s students. Federal education policy works, but it is “‘messy and cumbersome,’ and unlikely to change” (p. 146). Another lesson concerns the “factors that have facilitated or hindered the development of federal policy” (p. 148) such as the importance of presidential involvement in educational policy and the belief that powerful ideas can make a difference. Other important education policy lessons include “the power of the federal court system” (p. 155) and the belief that “political party distinctions on education have become less clear” (p. 156).
Chapter 9, The Future Federal Role, describes the possible direction of future federal education policy. Possibilities include, according to Cross, a further refinement of educational civil rights, evidence-based research, technology, early learning, high school reform, and teacher education and training.
Overall, Cross has done an excellent job in contextually framing federal education policy development and implementation. However, the presentation of the book would be more effective if all of the citations in the text were appropriately referenced (numerous citations in the text do not appear in the References section at the end of the book), a much needed appendix of acronyms was added, and the previously mentioned “policy primer” at the beginning of the book was expanded to help the reader better comprehend the labyrinth of federal education policy development and implementation.
The author, Christopher T. Cross, is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Education Policy and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Education Commission of the States. He has more than three decades of educational policy experience in Washington, D. C.
Kingdon, J. W. (1997). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. Boston: Harper Collins.
Sabatier, P. A. (1999). Theories of the policy process.
US Department of Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform.