Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Kennedy Years: Compensatory Education and Civil Rights
The issue of "compensatory education" for "culturally
disadvantaged" students in inner-city schools shifted the emphasis
of federal education policy back to the needs of low-achieving students
and away from the Sputnik-inspired academic emphasis on
high achieving students. Indeed, the early 1960s also saw a growing
emphasis on local schools as "multi-purpose agencies"
providing both resources and a cultural "climate" conducive
to meeting the needs of poor minority students. This mounting emphasis
on poor minority students reflected not only the Kennedy administration's
pursuit of "urban renewal" but also the growing influence
of the civil rights movement, which was sweeping the country under
the charismatic leadership of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.,
his Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), and, after 1960,
the growing Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Students as a constituency were, of course, valued participants in the civil rights movement. In 1960, students in North Carolina used the sit-in tactic to protest segregated lunch counters. In 1961, the Freedom Rides had drawn attention to the problem of racism throughout the South. In 1962, federal marshals had guarded young James Meredith as he enrolled at the University of Mississippi. And, in May, 1963, the televised brutality of the police in Birmingham, Alabama, where young people were blasted with water from fire hoses and attacked by dogs, revealed the urgency of the civil rights movement to millions of northern middle-class whites. By the time of the legendary March on Washington for Civil Rights and Jobs in the summer of 1963, it was impossible for Americans to ignore the growing strength of the movement. Indeed, after President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas in November and the shift to Lyndon Johnson's administration thereafter, the civil rights movement was arguably the most powerful force in American domestic politics-and its influence was felt strongly in the realm of education.