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RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act at Fifty and Beyond
edited by David A. Gamson, Kathryn A. McDermott and Douglas S. Reed
Russell Sage Foundation, 2015
Paper: 978-0-87154-673-9

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, a key component of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, was designed to aid low-income students and to combat racial segregation in schools. Over the last several decades, the ESEA has become the federal government’s main source of leverage on states and school districts to enact its preferred reforms, including controversial measures such as standardized testing. In this issue of RSF, an esteemed group of education scholars examine the historical evolution of the ESEA, its successes and pitfalls, and what they portend for the future of education policies.
The ESEA has historically enabled the federal government to address educational inequality at the local level. Among the nine articles in the issue, Erica Frankenberg and Kendra Taylor discuss how the ESEA, in conjunction with the Civil Rights Act, accelerated desegregation in the South in the 1960s by withholding federal funding from school districts that failed to integrate. Rucker C. Johnson shows that higher ESEA spending in school districts between 1965 and 1980 led to increased likelihood of high school graduation for students, and low-income students in particular. Students in districts with higher spending were also less likely to repeat grades or to be suspended from school. Yet, as Patrick McGuinn shows, the institutional and administrative capacity of the U.S. Department of Education has never been sufficient to force instructional changes at the school level. This was particularly true with the 2001 renewal of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act, which linked federal funding to schools’ test-score outcomes rather than to programs designed to combat social inequalities.
The issue also investigates the unintended consequences of the ESEA and offers solutions to offset them. As Patricia Gándara and Gloria Ladson-Billings demonstrate, ESEA reforms have, in some circumstances, led to the neglect of the needs of minority students and second-language learners. Gándara shows that No Child Left Behind requires “bilingual” education programs to focus on rapid acquisition of English, often to the detriment of those learning English as a second language. Ladson-Billings shows that the ESEA’s standardized testing mandates may suppress innovative teaching methods, and argues for reforms that use multidisciplinary approaches to craft new curricula. Bringing together research on the successes and shortcomings of the ESEA, this issue of RSF offers new insights into federal education policy and demonstrates that this landmark legislation remains a powerful force in the lives of educators and students fifty years after its initial implementation.
Contributors: David K. Cohen,  Elizabeth DeBray, Erica Frankenberg, David A. Gamson, Patricia Gándara, Nora Gordon, Eric A. Houck, Rucker C. Johnson, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kathryn A. McDermott,  Lorraine M. McDonnell, Patrick McGuinn, Susan L. Moffitt, Sarah Reber, Douglas S. Reed, Kendra Taylor

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