Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Kennedy:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Kennedy Years: Urban Education

In addition to educational problems associated with mental retardation, Kennedy also took an interest in educational problems associated with urban poverty-particularly the problem of inadequate preparation for school among economically and "culturally" deprived young people. In the early 1960s, in response to a growing body of sociological research into "cultural deprivation" in the inner city, a number of urban school districts had begun to launch "compensatory education" programs designed to meet the needs of poor minority students. Many of these early compensatory education programs benefited from private aid from the Ford Foundation and later became eligible for federal support. For example, the Kennedy administration's Manpower Development and Training Act supported vocational education programs for at-risk high school students, and its Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act funded innovative programs to cut dropout rates, improve supplemental reading techniques, and offer "life-adjustment" guidance and counseling services to low-income students in urban public schools.

In 1961, the availability of federal aid for inner cities led the nation's fourteen largest school districts to create a lobby known as the Great Cities Program for School Improvement (later called the Council of Great City Schools, or CGCS). The Council of Great City Schools had one main objective: to steer federal aid directly to city municipal governments and away from state agencies that tended to allow federal resources to flow disproportionately to suburban areas. As Boston superintendent Frederick Gillis noted in his annual report in 1961-1962, the phrase great cities in the new organization's name did not refer to "metropolitan areas where middle-class and upper-class suburbanites live in commuter dormitories surrounding the core city"; rather, he asserted, the phrase great cities referred to "the inner city itself." The creation of the Council of Great City Schools marked a shift in state-federal relations in the realm of education. Large urban districts increasingly appealed directly to the federal government for help (and often viewed state education agencies as adversaries or competitors in the pursuit of federal resources).


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