Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Bush, GHW:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The George H.W. Bush Years: America 2000 Proposed

Although President Bush's emphasis on the national goals kept attention on education, the administration did not use this opportunity to advance or enact any significant federal education legislation during its first two years. At the end of 1990, as the country was preparing for the Gulf War with Iraq, Bush replaced Cavazos as secretary of education with Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee, who was then serving as president of the University of Tennessee. The selection of Alexander signaled a desire to raise the profile of the Department of Education and the federal government in taking action on education. In April 1991, with Alexander in place as the prime architect, Bush presented his America 2000 proposal.

America 2000 included several programs related to implementation of the goals and ideas that the National Goals Panel had articulated. It proposed the creation of national standards and voluntary national tests (American Achievement Tests) in five core subject areas-English, math, science, history, and geography-to be administered in grades four, eight, and twelve. These tests would measure progress on the third national goal. America 2000 also:

  • Provided direct federal grants to develop 535 New American Schools (one in each of 435 congressional districts and 100 more around the country). These schools were expected to demonstrate reform strategies and serve as models for other schools in their areas.
  • Included support for local organizing to advance the achievement of national goals.
  • Required report cards on the progress of schools and districts.
  • Included a plan for some federal support of private school vouchers.

Early on, America 2000 received some key support. Albert Shanker, leader of the American Federation of Teachers, supported the establishment of clear standards, as did business leaders, who also liked the national testing provisions. When the administration bill based on the America 2000 plan went to Congress in 1991, it included most but not all of the initial concepts. For example, it did not provide for the creation of national standards and tests; instead, it required the administration to notify Congress when voluntary instruments would be developed through appropriations already allotted to the Department of Education. Democrats controlled both the Senate and House at that time, and the administration had to generate bipartisan support to enact its bill. In the House, Republicans introduced the bill; in the Senate, Democrats Claiborne Pell and Edward Kennedy took the lead so they could control action on the bill through the Committee on Labor and Human Resources.

Because no significant education legislation had passed in the previous two years, members of both parties in the Congress worked to draft viable legislation in 1991 and 1992. The major contested issues included national testing, private school vouchers, the Bush administration's proposal to bypass both the states and local school districts, and the extent to which added federal funding would be authorized through the legislation. Advocacy groups and members of Congress voiced a wide array of concerns. Liberals were wary of the testing provision, stating that more tests alone would only demonstrate the widely known fact that poor and minority students perform at lower levels. Though they limited their criticism of a Republican president, conservatives felt that the proposal for national standards and assessments gave the federal government too strong a role and began to usurp state power. An assortment of experts, advocates, and academics expressed concern about the increasing potential for national testing.

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