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The Politics of Federal Educational Policy: The Case of Educational Renewal

by John Merrow - 1974

The idea that a coherent federal educational policy exists, or should exist, is an appealing one; it allows a belief in a rational structure, a kind of arena for arguments over what the policy ought to be, who should make it, and who should carry it out. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats will argue over goals and means, but most thoughtful participants and observers would accept the idea that the federal role in public education, whatever its scope, ought to have a fair measure of internal consistency and that it ought to be directly (if not closely) related to national needs.

John Merrow has taught in high school, college, and prison. Currently he is communications coordinator of the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, D.C., where he is producing a series of programs on educational issues for National Public Radio. This article is adapted from his doctoral dissertation, "The Use and Abuse of Discretionary Authority in the U.S.

Office of Education."

The idea that a coherent federal educational policy exists, or should exist, is an appealing one; it allows a belief in a rational structure, a kind of arena for arguments over what the policy ought to be, who should make it, and who should carry it out. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats will argue over goals and means, but most thoughtful participants and observers would accept the idea that the federal role in public education, whatever its scope, ought to have a fair measure of internal consistency and that it ought to be directly (if not closely) related to national needs.

In fact, however, national needs—always an elusive concept—give way to the urgency of conditions in the federal city, and policy-making becomes less broadly political than narrowly partisan and personal. When the White House and the Congress are controlled by opposite parties, as now, the distance from the "rational" ideal increases. What ensues is not so much federal educational policy-making, but clashes in which programs, pride, and partisanship outweigh considerations of policy. Out in the field, programs receive confusing and often contradictory signals from Washington, and the natural response is to continue doing what was done yesterday and the day before.

The case of educational renewal is a clear and sometimes comical example of the misplaced priorities of policymakers and of the process which passes for policy-making. It was proposed by the Office of Education (OE) in 1971 as an administrative consolidation of existing legislative authority, and therefore not requiring congressional approval. Congress (meaning the three subcommittees concerned with education) disagreed, and their quarrel stretched into 1973.

Congress claimed that OE was trying, through educational renewal, to make new federal educational policy and opposed it on those grounds. As evidence, Congress waved about OE's own press releases trumpeting the arrival of a bold new day in American education.

Those claims, as all the participants were aware, are standard operating procedure in the marketing of educational innovations. OE's real reasons for supporting educational renewal had far more to do with its own survival in the hostile atmosphere of the administration of which it was a part. Grasping at straws, it had come up with the half-developed notion of renewal.

The story begins with an earlier, congressionally-sanctioned "experiment" in discretionary authority and teacher training, and with the concept of discretionary authority itself, which is so named because it refers to the power left by the Congress "to the discretion of the commissioner (of education)." Much federal legislation for education is "categorical," that is, the Congress established categories of allowable activities and directs that the funds be divided among the states (by number of children of low-income families, for example). The Education Professions Development Act of 1967 (EPDA) is largely discretionary. It was passed toward the end of the Great Society, and the intentions of its planners were to bring together in OE all educational manpower training programs to provide for more efficient administration, to allow OE to keep abreast of emerging national educational manpower needs, and to design and establish programs to meet those needs. EPDA was to provide the discretionary authority. In short, a federal educational manpower policy—with the federal government playing an important role—was the planners' goal in 1967.

But in 1971 the Bureau of Educational Personnel Development (created to administer EDPA) was in difficulty. It was top heavy with fifteen programs, short of money, and publicly identified as a teacher-training organization at a time when many teachers were out of work. Even though BEPD was retraining at least as many teachers as it trained, and even though there were (and are) shortages in some fields and in some geographical areas, BEPD was a prime candidate for executive and congressional axes. BEPD's solution was "teacher centers" and the concentration of all its funds into one program.

Other events also were threatening to OE. Congress and the administration were supporting a National Institute of Education (NIE) to do research and development; and education revenue sharing, which would give blocks of uncommitted money to states for education, was a major administration initiative. OE would have little to do except to write the checks, or so it seemed. New Commissioner Sidney P. Marland, Jr., grasped at the straw of "teacher centers," called it "educational renewal," and drew up plans for consolidating all of OE's discretionary authority (about $261 million). All of this flexible authority was to be put under one lock and key, and the key handed to Dr. Don Davies, by then the deputy commissioner for renewal. This consolidation (for no "new" money was involved) of discretionary power would itself have been an exercise of discretionary power, except that some well-placed congressmen questioned OE's authority to do the rearranging. Educational renewal, they suspected (once alerted by nervous educators in the field), amounted to a change in the power balance between OE and the Congress; perhaps it was even new federal educational policy, a prerogative Congress believes belongs to its body, even if it is generally unwilling, and perhaps unable, to act without strong leadership from the executive office.

The sound and fury which ensued was of significance for BEPD, Davies, and Marland. The battle itself was a skirmish in the continuing war between the administration and the Congress. And while there can be no doubt about the winner, the spoils of victory were dubious, to say the least.


BEPD's early history1 provides ample evidence of the dominant influence of daily pressures on operations. Relationships within the bureau, within the Office of Education, and with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) influenced BEPD's behavior far more than any actual conditions in bureau programs or in the field generally (BEPD reacted with too little and too late to news of the teacher surplus, for example).

Early in 1971 BEPD had fifteen programs competing for money and staff, neither of which was plentiful. Some time earlier Davies, an energetic liberal in his first government job,2 had created "Task Force 72" to write a five-year plan for the bureau. The task force fed on the ideas of earlier groups, added a dash of its own, and regurgitated the results: training complexes and teacher centers.3 For Davies, these recommendations looked like "the engine for school reform" he had been seeking and an escape from his cul-de-sac of too many programs of dubious impact, too little money, a baffle of guidelines, and a teacher surplus.

"Training complexes," or some offshoot, represented what was being called, in BEPD jargon, "a problem, not a program, approach," meaning an end to the bureau's piecemeal policy. It was reasoned that with all their problems school districts were likely to be receiving money from a number of federal programs: Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Follow Through, Bilingual Education, Drop-Out Prevention, Right to Read, and so forth. Each program had its own guidelines, its own administrative requirements, and its own local administration (probably jealous of its authority). Consolidation of all these funds, or most of them, would not only drastically reduce duplication and waste but probably result in speedier application of more resources to pressing problems. Moreover, since a few vigorous school superintendents had, in fact, achieved consolidation of federal funds,4 precedents existed that the idea worked. What was left to do was to consolidate from Washington.

BEPD began calling the idea of consolidation "site concentration." From there it was a short jump to teacher centers involving one program (not fifteen), offering inservice training to update the skills of those already employed (defusing the teacher surplus arguments against BEPD's survival), and providing a more powerful lever (the combination of monies) to persuade schools to change. Later Davies' Task Force '72 suggested the name be changed to Educational Renewal5 Sites/Teacher Centers, or simply "sites/ centers," to convey the sense of participation of all educational personnel, not just teachers. Though a site/center was touted as "neutral ground," BEPD decided to link teachers centers with tax-based structures (i.e., the public schools or the state education agencies). This move was consistent with Davies' desire to give the public schools more say in teacher preparation. At a teacher center the local public school authorities would join with the university (or teacher-training institution) and the community, and the renewal of teachers and systems would take place according to the "needs assessment" of local district forces.

This picture represents the extent of planning when the Office of Education and Commissioner Marland came on the scene. OE was under considerable pressure from the conservative administration, whose policies were influenced and articulated by White House Counselor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. There were to be no large federal initiatives in education until small experimental ventures proved successful. Such a philosophy manifested itself in several ways: cutbacks in funds for many education programs; presidential vetoes of "excessive" appropriations for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare;6 general revenue sharing (to give states, cities, and towns blocks of uncommitted money); a National Institute of Education; and education revenue sharing.7 NIE would conduct educational experimentation and disseminate the successful results for large-scale replication.


Clearly the new commissioner did not share his Republican colleagues' enthusiasm for dismantling much of the Office of Education. At an April 1971 meeting called by Marland of top-level staff, Davies proposed a solution: OE should concern itself with "educational renewal" and with providing "developmental assistance" to local school systems. Davies suggested putting most of OE's discretionary money under one umbrella and using that money to attack the educational problems that local districts defined for themselves. And OE's catalogue of available cures would be the products of NIE's research and continuing OE programs.

Davies' proposal was the teacher center notion writ large to include the 100 percent discretionary funds of Title VII of ESEA and the discretionary portions (called setasides) of most other OE programs. (For example, 15 percent of Title III is discretionary.) It was OE, not just BEPD, that needed bailing out, and Davies adapted the idea to fit the new situation.

Marland was enthusiastic, and he told Davies to proceed with detailed planning. Soon the details of the proposal began to emerge. There would be a reorganization, and the bulk of OE's discretionary funds would move into Davies' Office of Development, to be renamed the Office of Renewal. Teacher centers became the National Education Renewal Center Program (NERC). BEPD would be reorganized along geographical lines, most programs would be terminated as quickly as possible, and the bureau would be known as the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Systems (NCIES).8


NERC was to "bring together discretionary programs so that OE can respond better to the needs of schools," and the new orientation would be around "problems, not programs," which is what BEPD had been saying about teacher centers. NCIES was only one of a handful of national centers9 in NERC (itself a national center). This resulted in a jumble of absolutely forgettable acronyms: NCIES, NCES, NCERD, NCEC, and so forth, of which only NERC was pronounceable.

Renewal was intended to allow school districts across the country to apply, with one application, for the funds that previously flowed through a stack of small programs. Likewise, all that discretionary money in one lump sum would allow OE to give money to those districts that seemed most eager and able to renew themselves. Each grant would go to a local teacher center, which was to serve ten-fifteen schools in urban areas, more in rural settings.

After receiving Marland's initial imprimatur, Davies, his Deputy Russell Wood, and several assistants went to work. Perhaps naturally, they concentrated on the structure of the new organization, on what Davies' Special Assistant Steve Kaagan called "the configuration of the pipes, not what went through them."10 Their attention to the new program of renewal sites was generally restricted to enumeration; there would be 200 the first year, then 100 each subsequent year until there were 1,000 in all. Nothing concrete was announced about what a renewal site was, or what the center would do with and to whom.

According to the first plans, NERC was to consist of:

—All EPDA programs, including Part E, which Davies was again trying to wrest from the control of the Bureau of Higher Education (he had failed in two previous attempts).

—The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), which included the National Assessment Program.

—The National Center for Educational Communication (NCEC), which included ERIC, the educational information storehouse.

—Follow Through, from the Bureau of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

—Title III of ESEA of 1965, known as Supplementary Centers. Davies wanted the 15 percent discretionary and the 85 percent dispensed by the states.

—Title VII of ESEA, the Bilingual Education Program, which is 100 percent discretionary, from BESE.

—Title VIII of ESEA, Drop-Out Prevention, from BESE.

—The Technology Program of the Bureau of Libraries and Educational Technology (BLET), from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education.

—The TREND program, from BESE.

—The Teacher Corps, which Davies hoped would move out of BEPD (the administration's policy) but into his Office of Renewal, as a separate "priority program." The Education Amendments of 1972 moved the corps directly to the commissioner's office, not to ACTION, as the administration wished.

—Several other national priority programs, which were in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Management: Right to Read, Environmental Education, Health and Nutrition/Drug Education, and the Arts and Humanities Program.

Two programs already in Davies' bailiwick were to go to NIE when Congress passed the enabling legislation:

—NCERD, which controlled most of the research and development in OE. —Experimental Schools Program, a small demonstration project.11

In all, Davies would preside over $261 million and 630 personnel if the initial plans were approved. In BEPD Davies had authority over $135 million and a staff of 220.

Marland told Davies to negotiate directly with those whose programs he proposed to bring into the Office of Renewal. When Davies suggested to Marland that congressional approval might be needed for this reorganization, Marland made the crucial decision: He overruled Davies' proposal that OE submit new enabling legislation for congressional action. The decision was made, according to Kaagan, for the following reasons:

1. Impatience, fed by the certain knowledge that the wheels of Congress grind slowly and a desire to put the "Marland stamp" on something.

2. Lack of expertise, especially on the part of the new commissioner, in dealing with Capitol Hill.

3. The presence of two important pieces of legislation, the Higher Education Act and education

revenue sharing, already awaiting congressional action.

4. A preference in the Office for the "administrative route," in Kaagan's phrase.

5. A concern that the Democratic-controlled Congress might not approve this Republican initiative.12

Marland's own explanation is less complex:

Someone's imagination ran away with him as he alleges a variety of motivations . . . underlying the decision to proceed administratively with the proposed renewal plan . . .

The reason for proceeding administratively rather than through legislation was a simple one: the Office of General Counsel in HEW advised Secretary Richardson that such a procedure was correct and that no new legislation was necessary and, indeed, if proposed, would be redundant to existing law. Secretary Richardson made the decision and I, of course, complied.13

All other reports suggest that the decision was rather more complex and that the "tilt" in favor of administrative reorganization was apparent from the outset. That it was a crucial decision cannot be overstated. By not seeking new legislation, OE was, in effect, saying that legislation was unnecessary, that it already had the discretionary authority to consolidate the discretionary powers in almost all education legislation.

Thus in June, 1971, (acting) Deputy Commissioner Davies had three major tasks at hand:

—To gain approval from Secretary of HEW Elliot Richardson, which involved persuading the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

—To negotiate within OE for the programs to be included in NERC. With few exceptions, nobody wanted to be renewed, if only because it meant changing offices, moving files, and so forth. Change also meant a possible loss of power, an event few relish.

—To reorganize the programs under his control—that is, within BEPD, by and large—in preparation for educational renewal.

His agenda left little time for congressmen or educators in the field, who learned about the proposal second-hand.

Because BEPD was in Davies' fiefdom, reorganization went quickly, if not entirely smoothly. Amid much grumbling, BEPD personnel were shifted from programs to four geographical divisions. Top-heavy as it was with high-salaried employees, BEPD had to scramble to create positions commensurate with rank and regulation. At the end of the process, the slender trunk of the new NCIES had a confusion of branches; some branches consisted of five or six staff, each earning between $25-30,000 per year, and one secretary. NCIES was announced to the world in the Federal Register on March 6, 1973, a deed which once done cannot easily be undone.

Davies encountered considerably more opposition from within the rest of the Office of Education. Marland had told him to negotiate directly with those whose programs NERC coveted. What occurred was a steady shrinkage of programs from Davies' planned NERC. These setbacks were not directly attributable to Davies' negotiating prowess; he is, in fact, charming and persuasive. Rather, the field and the Congress began pressuring renewal just as Davies modified the scheme to gain HEW's approval. The programs NERC coveted sensed the trouble brewing and redoubled their efforts to avoid being renewed.

Seen together the planning documents suggest Davies' problems. The June 11, 1971, document calls for approval of NERC within a week, with implementation to begin on July 1, three weeks away! The immediate issue, said the document, was planning the next budget. One month later Davies had learned some hard lessons. NERC, he wrote, "could be implemented by September 1," if HEW approved.14 The June figures ($261 million, 630 staff) were scaled down somewhat to $233 million with a staff of 540. The next planning document, dated August 24, was less than sanguine: "The planning for NERC has been underway for three months. Decisions about its implementation are expected before the end of the year. Much work remains to be done . . . ,"15 No longer were figures on money and staff announced, but readers capable of addition could see that others, well versed in subtraction, had been at work. Davies' NERC was down to $164 million, almost all of which came from BEPD.

Renewal was being scrutinized by bureaucrats with no particular interest in its approval. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) in HEW and the Office of Management and Budget tried to force OE to put its new scheme into some sort of historical perspective. How was renewal different from earlier efforts, why had those efforts failed, and why would renewal be more likely to succeed?


The severe questioning brought Commissioner Marland actively into the fray and forced Davies, Marland, and their staffs to develop detailed plans. Before its adoption by OE, renewal meant teacher centers, which were to be real places in school districts, places for inservice training, dissemination of educational innovations, the administration of federal money, and "needs assessment."16 But the idea was adopted by the Office of Education—that is, by Marland—before the hard questions had been asked. Among the questions:

—What are the incentives for teachers use of a teacher center for inservice training?

—How would a teacher center differ from the supplementary centers established under Title III in the middle 1960s?

—Who would control the teacher center?

—Why would educational leaders in a community prefer a teacher center? Why not retain the status quo, or merely concentrate funding?

—What would go on at a teacher center?

—What prototypes, if any, exist of a teacher center?

The last question sent OE scrambling; HEW and OMB wanted some evidence that renewal and teacher centers would work before agreeing to 200 of them. A five-page "history" was produced, tracing the evolution of the idea.17 BEPD looked back and discovered, not surprisingly, that indeed there were prototypes; the bureau had been funding at least four teacher centers, under other names, for several years. Louisville's forceful superintendent had wheedled eighteen separate grants from federal programs (including some from BEPD) and had seen to their joint administration. This was named, by BEPD, "site concentration," then "site configuration." When the history was called for, Louisville became, figuratively speaking, the Cro-Magnon Man in teacher center's evolution.

But despite the hard questions, the price of HEW's approval seems not to have been the answers (though they were provided), but the acceptance of the notion of an "Education Extension Agent,"18 modeled after what OE and HEW considered the highly successful Department of Agriculture program (and, apparently, after four pilot programs in OE's National Center for Educational Communication).

HEW approved renewal, but not until late 1971. In fact, HEW and Secretary Elliot Richardson became enthusiastic supporters of the plan.19 Meanwhile, congressional opposition was mounting, particularly from Senator Claiborne Pell's subcommittee on education. The legislative-executive battle was essentially between Pell (D., R.I.) and Marland (aided and then replaced by HEW Secretary Richardson); Davies moved to the sidelines.

Some congressional opposition was inevitable,20 not so much because of the Democratic-Republican split but because Congress is especially sensitive to administrative rearrangements, believing that changes may well amount to tampering with the intent of the Congress. But the renewal melodrama went far beyond normal acrimony. Marland, whipsawed between educators in the field (supporting the status quo in funding arrangements) and the Congress, was accused on the Senate floor of deliberate misrepresentation and of disregard for law.

Congressional suspicions were fed by the underground pipeline from OE to Capitol Hill. The pipeline is a fact of life, but it is usually not as effective as it was during renewal. The increased activity "indicated real discontent within the Office."21 So effective was the pipeline that the contents of internal OE documents were often known to congressional staff before the addressees in OE received them.

In the latter part of 1971, while OE was trying to persuade HEW to approve renewal, the Congress began hearing about the proposed changes from those outside Washington whose programs were being "renewed." Particularly vocal were the bilingual education projects (Title VII of ESEA), which had been moved from BESE. California alone had twenty-six projects, but OE's planned 200 "renewal sites," four per state, seemed to mean that twenty-two California bilingual projects would suffer.22 A Senate subcommittee staff member recalled later that bilingual education was the key:

That constituency got more than one Senator upset, and they in turn began digging into what OE was doing. Once the senators got involved, something had to be done. If OE had been able to defuse the bilingual issue early, they might have gotten by with Renewal.23

Senators Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), Alan Cranston (D., Cal.), and Joseph Montoya (D., N. Mex.) heard the angry cries of constituents in bilingual education. Other senators heard from different groups, like the American Library Association and the National Audio Visual Association, both of which were upset about plans to split up the Bureau of Libraries and Educational Technology (BLET); Senator Thomas Eagleton (D., Mo.) responded to their complaints with an early amendment to restore BLET to its original form.24

None of the organizations that normally support OE's actions lent their prestige and lobbying power to the cause of renewal. The so-called big six25 passed affirmative resolutions and stood on the sidelines to await the outcome. (Some of the big six apparently provided information to the subcommittee; that is, they worked against the plan.)26 Kaagan explained their nonsupport: "There appeared to be little or no new money in renewal. Rather it just seemed a rearrangement of already existing blocks of money."27


Thus when Commissioner Marland, a gruff, rough-hewn veteran of educational battles as a school superintendent and education industry executive, went to explain educational renewal at a House hearing in October, 1971, the new program was already controversial. In retrospect, that October hearing was the high point of the commissioner's relationship with Capitol Hill. Before the smoke cleared, two legislators whose support of education legislation is crucial, Senator Pell and Representative John Brademas, the Indiana Democrat who chairs the house select subcommittee on education, had developed strong personal feelings about renewal and the commissioner's handling of its presentation. The urbane Rhode Island senator missed no opportunity to call, ever so politely, various inconsistencies in OE's statements to the commissioner's attention. Brademas was singlehandedly responsible for making Marland's subsequent position of assistant secretary for education largely a ceremonial one.

At that October hearing, and in subsequent meetings and correspondence, the Congress, led by Pell and Brademas, barraged Marland with questions about the renewal program. Always close to the surface was their opposition to administrative rearrangement without legislative approval. Their determination to torpedo renewal was strengthened by Marland himself, who, while reassuring Congress of the tentative, exploratory, pilot nature of the program, informed OE personnel of his final approval.28 That came on October 14; personnel shifts began the very next day, and OE press releases heralding the "systematic revolution" were distributed.

On December 12, 1971, Pell wrote Marland (repeating what he had told him at their meeting) that perhaps up to twelve renewal sites might be funded as an experiment. The letter continued:

I know you stated that a small number of sites would not be sufficient to have an impact on the country as a whole. In my opinion, I would question whether an experimental program ought to have an impact on the country as a whole, until it has been proven by experimentation.29

The figure twelve stands as evidence of the compromise mentality of the entire process; there is no other available explanation for that particular number. By a wry coincidence, on the same day Marland sent Pell some "clarifying" material with key passages underlined, apparently by Marland himself. The material reiterated OE's intention to establish 200 "renewal sites" immediately and add 100 more each year until there were 1,000 across the country. The OE announcement trumpeted the news:


Congress believed, correctly, that the opposite was true. OE was explaining its proposed changes, but it was not seeking approval, which meant full-dress hearings and new legislation. A few weeks earlier Marland had told the Council of Chief State School Officers (CSSO) of his difficulties with the Congress, and of his determination to stick to his guns because renewal was "a systematic yet revolutionary" improvement in education.31 A copy of the speech was sent along to Pell to further "clarify" OE's plans.

Marland did not say anything to the Chief State School Officers about dropping Titles VII and VIII from renewal. Nor did he tell them that there would be money for only twenty to thirty operating renewal centers during the next year. That is not unreasonable; after all, he wanted their support for renewal, which they would be hardly likely to give to a minor program of developmental assistance (i.e., planning) grants. So the commissioner spoke in terms of 200 renewal centers.

But Pell had been told there would be twenty to thirty projects, and his own suggestion was for a maximum of twelve. Marland was finally caught in the disparity, and it seemed to some observers that the senator's indignation was more feigned than real.

Davies later explained the apparent contradictions. For one thing, OE's plans were changing too fast for the printers, and the agreement to remove Titles VII and VIII from renewal had come too late; documents had been printed and circulated, and the Congress was about to act on the education bill. In the matter of the numbers Marland was distinguishing between operational sites (twenty-thirty) and planning sites (of which there might be at least one in every state and as many as 175 in fiscal 1973).32 The Congress never seemed to grasp the distinction, nor, Davies added, did it ever seem to want to. In his view, the Congress was determined to prevent the administrative rearrangement called renewal chiefly because it felt that such changes required the consent of Congress. "There's no question about it. OE should have submitted new legislation and taken its chances."33

And while the commissioner was "reassuring" Pell, OE was telling the State Education Agencies (SEA) that there would be sixty sites that first year, not twenty-thirty, not 200. That figure included operational and planning sites (though the distinction was not made especially clear), apparently to mollify any fears SEAs might have about their not being enough to go around. On January 21, 1972, OE announced that final applications for renewal monies were due February 14, inadvertently overlooking the federal regulation that called for a thirty-day notice. Pell's subcommittee took note of the violation. It further noted that the administration's FY 1973 budget request contained an "Educational Renewal Appropriation" that was, in Pell's phrase, "inconsistent" with Marland's assurances; that is, it included Bilingual Education and Drop-Out Prevention (Titles VII and VIII).34

Pell politely brought these "inconsistencies" to the commissioner's attention, with "The hope that [he] would defer any further action in implementing this proposal until such time as this confusion may be properly disposed of."35 In fact, the subcommittee intended to dispose of renewal, not the confusion. But even given the subcommittee's determination to oppose the program, Marland's explanations of the inconsistencies must have sounded gratuitous, at best: Perhaps Congress was confused, the commissioner wrote, because the Office of Education was attaching four different meanings to the term renewal. It meant, Marland said:

—His own effort to instill in all OE activities and personnel the proper spirit

(i.e., of Renewal).

—The Educational Renewal Appropriation request.

—Don Davies' position, then called Deputy Commissioner for Renewal.

—Educational Renewal Sites (Davies' old Teacher Centers).36


Not surprisingly, the rhetorical footwork failed to impress the Congress, and on February 27, the final day of debate on the omnibus education bill, the renewal melodrama reached a climax. Early in February Senator Alan Cranston and others decided "to eradicate the disease of discretionary authority not just its symptom, renewal."37 Cranston met with HEW Secretary Richardson, and the subcommittee staff held four or five meetings with the HEW staff. Meanwhile It was killed on procedural grounds, but it might have fared the same if Congress had scrutinized it on substance, particularly in the light of the legislative-executive rift." Letter, March 16, 1973. the subcommittee counsel drew up an amendment38 designed to stop administrative rearrangements and discretionary actions, but allowing a few pilot renewal sites. Richardson apparently was willing to kill renewal himself39 if the amendment would, in turn, be dropped; however, the staff-level meetings were acrimonious and unproductive. At the last minute, HEW agreed to return bilingual education to BESE's direction, but that was not enough. On February 27, the final day for offering amendments, Cranston decided to retain the amendment, reasoning that it could be dropped in conference, when and if OE satisfied the senators who were especially concerned.

When the amendment,40 which outlawed the "commingling of funds" but allowed a few pilot renewal sites, was introduced, Pell told the Senate:

Generally, I am opposed to legislation of the type the Senator from California is proposing, because I think these things are best handled by negotiation between honorable men. This is an exceptional situation and, therefore, I would recommend . . . the amendment.41

It passed easily in the Senate, though in the marathon House-Senate conference it was changed, largely at the urging of Brademas. As passed, the amendment allowed a few pilot sites, and the Senate bill removed the fully discretionary Cooperative Research Act of 1954 from OE's control. Brademas wanted to kill renewal completely without any changes in the Cooperative Research Act. The compromise removed the section of the Cranston Amendment allowing pilot renewal sites and amended and limited the Cooperative Research Act, but left it in OE.42 Brademas felt strongly that allowing pilot renewal sites would be a great mistake, since that set a precedent and then left matters largely to the appropriations committees, and not the education subcommittees; that is, subsequent decisions would involve how much money for renewal, not whether. Renewal was wrong in principle, he felt, because OE was usurping congressional authority; therefore, no pilot or experimental sites should be allowed without new legislation. At his insistence the section of the Cranston Amendment was deleted in the House-Senate conference. Ironically, OE and BEPD finally favored the Cranston Amendment over Brademas' proposal. The net effect was a drastic reduction in OE's discretionary powers. Renewal was officially and finally dead, the victim of Congress' fundamental distrust of discretionary authority for bureaucrats, of its institutional memory, and of its "genuine belief that OE officials had deliberately misstated OE policy at various junctures.43


Where did that leave the actors in this melodrama? Marland was soon elevated to assistant secretary for education in HEW, a position that turned out to be short of power and staff and which he left in September, 1973, to become president of the College Entrance Examination Board.

The Office of Development (as NERC/Office of Renewal came to be called once again) and Davies were left holding the (by now nearly empty) bag. Since very little remained of the office, however, Davies soon resigned to become a visiting fellow at Yale's Center for the Study of Education, in February, 1973. It was, he said, a happy coincidence.

I have had enough of this administration and of Washington for awhile, and this opportunity gives me time to work on some ideas of mine on the consumers of education and their participation in the decisions that affect them.44

He now directs the new Institute for Responsive Education at Yale.

Russell Wood, the chief force in planning the original bureau and a major planner of the renewal idea, was forced out relatively early, apparently because of a personality clash with Marland. He spent the time studying community participation in OE-funded programs and is now assistant director of the Teacher Corps.

BEPD, of course, died. It was reorganized for renewal, and with the demise of that concept morale plummeted; absenteeism rose; high-salaried personnel came to work late, if at all, and left early.45 All BEPD programs were "forward-funded," meaning that they actually spend their money in the fiscal year after it is appropriated. Thus BEPD programs spent a fiscal 1973 appropriation of $118 million in FY 1974, which began July 1, 1973. The 1974 HEW appropriation bill provided $142 million for EPDA programs, $37.5 million of which was for the Teacher Corps. Titles III, VII, and VIII received $146, $53, and $4 million, respectively. And if the Senate has its way (which seems likely), EPDA will be repealed in 1974.

OE's claims to the contrary notwithstanding, renewal seems likely to have required a substantial rearrangement, at least in Washington and perhaps in the field. If successful, it would have given OE and Davies far more monetary leverage with which to move school districts in directions OE deemed appropriate. To Pell, such changes constituted a major policy decision, which is the responsibility of Congress, not OE, Marland, or Davies. The Congress must decide whether OE should have such a potentially powerful lever, and if so, how it should be used.

The issue of congressional prerogative was the rock on which renewal foundered, but the ship itself was never especially seaworthy, and the helmsmen steered an uncertain course. Renewal was a half-developed idea, thrust into prominence for reasons having little to do with its validity or promise.

It is important to remember what renewal was. It was teacher centers, Davies' name for a device to concentrate BEPD money, then fragmented in fifteen programs. Louisville and a few other places had shown that federal grants could be administered jointly. Why not, BEPD reasoned, do it from Washington, through teacher centers, which would increase BEPD's leverage while sweetening the pot for school districts? Grantees would get their money in much larger chunks—but no new money—and BEPD would retain the right to choose which problems would be attacked (not an absolute right, to be sure, but the power to channel school districts in directions the bureau preferred). Seen from that perspective, teacher centers and even renewal were extensions of the liberal conception of the federal-state-local partnership.

Davies does not agree with this interpretation:

I believe that the "Renewal Site" idea was more than an extension. It was different in that it required a process (planning, community involvement, etc.) but did not have substantial requirements such as differential staffing, use of teacher aides, etc. It also gave a somewhat different role to the states (a state Renewal Center to provide help, monitoring), and state nomination and approval of those selected by OE.46

Renewal, according to Davies, was not a defensive consolidation:

Sid Marland wanted to provide aggressive, offensive leadership for change in the schools. It was in that spirit that we planned and launched the "Renewal" idea.47

But decisions in OE (and probably in bureaucracies everywhere) are not made merely on the strength and quality of ideas. Proposals must be sold, and some of renewal's sudden prominence was because of Davies' salesmanship. In Commissioner Marland he had a ready buyer; the National Institute of Education and education revenue sharing threatened to take away most of OE's daily work. By the same token, many bureaucrats fought renewal because it threatened their existing patterns of doing business. Impossible to judge accurately is the importance of strong personal feelings of the principals for each other. Neither personal animosities nor fear of disruption have any connection with the proposal's strengths and weaknesses.

Some have suggested that the confusion arose because renewal was both policy and program.48 But the truth lies in the opposite direction: as presented, it was neither. It was a consolidation, a defensive maneuver to shore up OE's crumbling walls; a way of living with the administration's policies without losing everything. But it could hardly be sold as such; for reasons that have to do with personal ambition and a cultural preoccupation with superlatives, renewal was described as a "systematic revolution," and so forth.

It was nothing of the sort; it was a substantial rearrangement of the Office itself, which OE did not have the power to do without congressional approval. The attempt antagonized much of OE, the profession, and the Congress, and cost OE much of its discretionary authority. Commissioner Marland lost a good deal of prestige and power, and BEPD, a modest experiment in teacher training, came to an ignominious end; its programs, both successful and unsuccessful, were terminated for reasons having little to do with their successes and failures. But BEPD's course was never more than marginally influenced by how well it helped train educational personnel. The bureau set out to end the teacher shortage (which was ending even as BEPD set up shop) and to improve training. Davies added a goal or two, notably the improvement of education for the children of low-income families. The teacher shortage, with some exceptions in certain fields, came to an end, but it is certain that BEPD was not responsible. There are no reliable data on whether teachers are now being trained more effectively or more efficiently; there are only conflicting data on the education of poor kids.


There is a good deal of irony in the circumstances of BEPD's end. OE was threatened not so much by the Congress but by the White House, which wanted to dismantle the large social programs (many of which OE administered) and to send blocs of money to states through revenue sharing. OE saw in BEPD's teacher centers a way to renew itself; that is, to accommodate the administration (of which it was a part) and provide itself with something consequential to do when the White House had finished remodeling it. But OE could not seek the support of its logical, or at least traditional, ally, the Democratic-controlled Congress. Instead, it relied on its discretionary powers to rearrange things. OE (and HEW) went to the mat with Congress over the question, while the White House stood on the sidelines (from all reports it never took much interest in the matter). But in a sense the Congress was doing the White House's work, cutting down the Office of Education. True, the Congress was also limiting the administration's discretionary authority, but it is a safe assumption that if the White House had to choose an administration component it would most prefer weakened, it would choose OE, whose propensity for social intervention and civil rights enforcement goes deeper than the political appointments at the top. Thus although the Congress bloodied up the Office of Education—no great feat— and sharply curtailed its discretionary authority, it is hard to imagine displeasure as the dominant reaction in the White House.


Renewal reveals more about the unclarity of federal educational policy than anything else. It was OE's way of moderating the administration's move toward education revenue sharing—which the Congress also rejected. If federal educational policy emerges from the interaction of the executive and congressional branches of government, then no coherence is likely for some years. "The Congress" is a misappellation, of course; one Senate subcommittee and two subcommittees in the House are concerned with educational legislation. The interest of the other legislators depends largely upon their constituents and their staffs. Nor should one imagine that the executive branch is of a piece; the factions that exist just within the Office of Education should shatter any assumptions about a united front. Moreover, issues are never clear, and the knowledge base for decisions is always incomplete. Finally, events in Washington itself and politically significant events outside Washington are the most important considerations in the decisions that lead to what is called, loosely, policy. Often events are obscured by the personalities of those involved, as seems to have been the case with renewal.

Perhaps all this is as it must be. Perhaps what we look back on as policy is really the happy accident of a series of coherent acts, themselves the result of relative harmony among the small group of legislators and bureaucrats who jointly create the legislation. If that is the case, then no coherent policy seems possible in the present cacophony.

That same analysis would hold that renewal failed, not because of the principled anger of Congress or the mismanagement of OE, but simply because there was no new money involved. If there had been a strong scent of new sources of funds, the big six and the rest of the profession would have stood in line to be renewed, even if they were only going to "say the words, take the money and go home," as the old theatrical saying has it.

Seen in that harsh light, there is no federal educational policy, only numbers of programs which themselves embody (in their original form anyway) different political positions. The programs which are enacted emerge from the political process, and trading support is part of the politics of consensus. When Congress passed EPDA, it gave up some prerogatives to allow bureaucrats a chance to "rationalize" the training of educational personnel (it did the same thing with other discretionary legislation, notably the Cooperative Research Act of 1954). It offered the bureaucrats the opportunity to work away from the political arena. But BEPD's subsequent behavior was fiercely political and partisan, and no coherent federal policy toward the training of teachers emerged. In killing renewal, the Congress took back most of OE's discretionary authority, which seems to be an example of a right decision for the wrong reasons.

Few of the 586 men and women in the Congress are concerned with federal policy toward public education. Those who are, like Pell, Brademas, and Representative Edith Green (D., Ore.), are capable and knowledgeable, but the Congress is ill-suited to make policy except by a process of accretion: a series of consistent pieces of legislation and programs adds up to policy. Those programs and their enabling legislation generally have been written in the executive branch, with the support of the congressional education subcommittees.

The subcommittees are entrusted to act for the Congress, which as a body is unconcerned with subtleties. Busing and the immediate dollar benefits to the congressman's own district are more likely to influence votes than are questions of federal educational policy.

The Congress cannot make policy alone. It is true that the President proposes, and the Congress disposes. The generally liberal subcommittees are cast in the adversary role, given the Nixon thrust. The overriding irony is that the Office of Education and HEW, both well staffed with believers in government spending for education, became Congress' adversary. Neither the blunders and misstatements of OE's leadership nor the personal animosities explain renewal's defeat; instead the Congress was proving that, although it cannot make federal educational policy alone, it will not easily let its earlier work be unravelled. In sum, the actual condition of education programs in the states played a minor role in the rise and the fall of renewal.

1 The most complete history of EPDA and BEPD is my own, "The Use and Abuse of Discretionary Authority in the U.S. Office of Education," from which this article is taken (Harvard Graduate School of Education, unpublished dissertation, April 1973). See also David Cohen et al., "The Role of Evaluation in Federal Education Training Programs," study done for the National Advisory Council on Education Professions Development, 1971.

2 Davies came to BEPD from the National Education Association's Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards.

3 It also dealt with performance-based teacher education and other subjects.

4 Especially by Dr. Newman Walker of Louisville, Kentucky.

5 The White House and HEW had already been talking about the need for renewal in education.

6 The President vetoed three of six HEW-Labor appropriations bills from fiscal 1970 to fiscal 1973. He vetoed and pocket-vetoed the 1973 appropriations bill, which meant that the Office of Education operated throughout that year on a "continuing resolution." But HEW is used to uncertainty, and the responsibility rests with the Congress as well as with the White House. The complexities and hesitations of the budget process are such that only rarely is a HEW-Labor appropriations bill ready for the President's signature before that fiscal year has actually begun. This means that the Office of Education (along with the rest of HEW and the Labor Department) almost always operates on a continuing resolution.

7 Legislation for the education revenue sharing was rejected in Congress.

8 "National Education Renewal Centers," internal Office of Education planning document, reproduced, August 24, 1971, p. 2.

9 Some of which existed before renewal.

10 Steve Kaagan, "The Bureaucracy is Forced Back to the Drawing Board," draft of unpublished study of renewal, October 1972, p. 8.

11 Ibid., pp. 38-39. The list is also in the planning documents.

12 Ibid., pp. 87-92. Kaagan adopted a Dantesque metaphor, with the reasons for the decision occupying spheres and the decision itself at the core. The lesser reasons occupy the outer spheres, etc. Kaagan concludes that "The actors with their motivations and concerns, the collection of associated events which framed the decision they had to make, the controlling ethos of an administration in power and the general atmosphere—put together they made the decision a foregone conclusion" (p. 36). Kaagan seems to be implying that, in this case at least, men are not responsible for their errors of judgment.

13 Letter, June 4, 1973.

14 "National Education Renewal Centers, (A Revised Proposal)," internal Office of Education planning document, reproduced, July 9, 1971, p. 16.

15 "National Education Renewal Centers," August 24, 1971, p. 3.

16 In fact, some teacher centers exist in a few states.

17 "Teacher Centers: A Brief History," undated. Russell Wood also prepared a short history, in which he said that the plan had "at least two and one half years of planning and experimentation behind it." Letter, February 3, 1972.

18 The Education Extension Agents program was transferred to NIE, where it presumably will be experimented with systematically.

19 According to Dr. P. Michael Timpane, then program officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (HEW) with authority over renewal, Secretary Richardson was "very deeply committed to renewal as a process." Letter, March 8, 1973.

20 Congressional suspicion of BEPD and Davies can be traced back to the passage of the Education Professions Development Act in 1967. The bill had been written in HEW and handled by Representative Edith Green's (D., Ore.) subcommittee, but her scrutiny was primarily limited to the then controversial National Teacher Corps. Parts of the bill pertaining to the Corps were amended, and EPDA was passed by the full House on June 27, 1967. But the Senate never had much opportunity to examine EPDA. The education subcommittee, then headed by Wayne Morse (D., Ore.), held a two-hour hearing, and the House-passed bill was submitted to the full Senate on June 28, two days before the Teacher Corps—a Senate favorite—was to expire. To save the Teacher Corps, the Senate chose to pass the version of EPDA approved by the House, thus making a House-Senate conference unnecessary. Thus did EPDA, with its extraordinary discretionary authority, slide by both House and Senate.

21 According to Associate Senate Subcommittee Counsel Richard Smith. Interview, March 5,1973.

22 Kaagan, op. cit., pp. 50-51.

23 Interview with Richard Smith, op. cit.

24 Kaagan, op. cit., p. 41. In fact, Davies won this early battle and had his way with BLET.

25 The National Education Association (NEA), the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CSSO), the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National School Boards Association.

26 Interview with Richard Smith, op. cit.

27 Kaagan, op. cit., p. 70.

28 Davies wrote that "blame on the Congressional problems must be shared by Richardson, Marland, Davies . . . and the HEW and OE legislative staffs. It's probably not fair to blame Marland exclusively for 'conflicting claims and statements.' It was my responsibility to make sure he had accurate info, etc." Letter, March 1, 1973. (Emphasis in original.)

29 Letter, Pell to Marland, December 12, 1971. This letter and all the pertinent correspondence, memos, and speeches are reprinted in the Congressional Record, February 28,1972.

30 Congressional Record, op. cit., p. S2723.

31 Ibid.

32 "Developmental assistance" went into "planning sites."

33 Interview, January 20, 1973. Associate Commissioner for Legislation Albert Alford does not agree: "While there has been a lot of rhetoric on the situation, advice on what Congress will do, even from the best of sources, is always 'iffy.' There is no assurance, for example, that the fate of education renewal would have been different if it had been introduced as legislation.

34 This was not duplicity, but once again the result of plans changing so fast that the printers could not keep up.

35 Congressional Record, p. S2726.

36 Ibid., p. S2728.

37 Interview with Richard Smith, op. cit.

38 Ibid. Richard Smith recalls that he "dusted off' and rewrote an earlier amendment he had prepared for the Vocational Education Bill in 1968. That had passed the Senate but had been dropped in conference.

39 According to Richard Smith, who as associate counsel to the senate subcommittee sat in on some of the meetings. Dr. P. Michael Timpane, ASPE program officer in charge of renewal, remembered the meetings somewhat differently: "The Secretary was very deeply committed to Renewal as a process. In fact, he was in some later stages 'the strongest supporter in the room.' This was in part because, as the Cranston Amendment neared enactment, he was concerned about the more fundamental encroachment on executive discretion. . ." Letter, March 8, 1973.

40 The amendment, as passed by the Senate, did three things: allowed some pilot renewal sites, prohibited the "commingling" of funds without congressional approval, restored the bilingual education program to BESE, and authorized the Right to Read program.

41 Congressional Record, op. cit., p. S2722.

42 Interview with Jack Duncan, counsel to the House select subcommittee on education, March 19, 1973.

43 Letter from P. Michael Timpane, op. cit.

44 Interview, January 20, 1973. Davies later wrote: "My 'pro-forma' resignation submitted in November along with everyone else's was not accepted. When I told Marland I was really thinking of leaving, he asked me to stay on at least until the summer. In mid-January I submitted a real resignation after the offer from Yale." Letter, March 1, 1973.

45 The source of this information requested anonymity, but a visit to BEPD/NCIES bears out the truth of the observation.

46 Letter, March 19, 1973.

47 Ibid.

48 Kaagan, op. c/f., pp. 14-16, 87-92.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 76 Number 1, 1974, p. 19-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1354, Date Accessed: 1/17/2022 3:05:13 AM

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