Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Clinton Years: Private and Nonprofit Sector Players
By the late 1990s, dozens of private organizations and think tanks had begun to assume leadership in the dissemination of school-reform ideas. Among these new groups were the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association, which supports smaller class sizes and "effective schools" reforms; the Council on Basic Education, which emphasizes basic skills and instructional improvements in its advocacy for curricular reform; the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation and Education Reform, a research organization committed to voucher plans and led by Chester Finn, Jr., former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration; and, representing the opposite end of the political spectrum, the Education Trust and the Twenty-First Century Schools Project of the Progressive Policy Institute, associated with the Democratic Leadership Council.
In the absence of any federal agency to approve or compare state standards, a number of organizations also entered the business of rating state standards. The American Federation of Teachers, the Council for Basic Education, and the Fordham Foundation, among others, have published periodic reviews of state standards. Achieve, an organization created by a coalition of state governors and top corporate executives following the Palisades summit, analyzes state standards and their alignment with state assessments; it is also committed to creating assessments for multi-state use.
Other groups that emerged in the 1990s sponsored "systemic" reform initiatives and expressed their willingness to assume control of individual schools, even whole school systems. These groups included the Coalition of Essential Schools-which originated at Brown University under the leadership of Ted Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education-and the Edison Project, led by business entrepreneur Christopher Whittle and former Yale president Benno Schmidt. Many of these groups, both liberal and conservative, supported "high-stakes" testing and accountability systems, but others opposed these trends. For example, Fair Test in Cambridge, Massachusetts, together with the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education, lobbied against the use of standardized tests for graduation or grade-promotion purposes. Asserting that a greater use of tests was not a "reform" in itself, these groups try to pinpoint specific aspects of schooling that might improve academic achievement among disadvantaged youth (aspects such as more parental involvement, more professional development for teachers, more technology in classrooms, smaller class sizes, higher teacher salaries, better discipline, safer schools, more creative and individualized curricula, etc.).
A number of university-based research institutes emerged in the 1980s and 1990s to contribute to contemporary policy debates in education. They include the Center for Educational Policy Analysis at Rutgers; the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University; the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University; and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), which is based at the University of Pennsylvania and draws on scholars at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan. Other organizations involved in the work of school reform include the Alliance for Excellent Education, the American Youth Policy Forum, the Center for Collaborative Education, the Education Trust, the Education Policy Institute, and the Learning First Alliance.
Some organizations, such as the Center on Education Policy (under the direction of Jack Jennings), attempt to steer clear of ideological advocacy, while others-such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute-take conservative positions. This growth in research and advocacy groups has added diverse views on school reform. The array of advocates around various federal education issues illustrates the increasing importance of federal policy in dealing with some of the nation's most contentious social concerns.