Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Nixon:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Nixon Years: Linking Aid to Achievement

This notion of federal supervision of student performance in specific subjects mentioned in the original Title I in 1965, together with the notion of linking aid to achievement, was, in some ways, new. Previous administrations had not required direct evidence of a link between federal aid and student achievement-perhaps because asking for such evidence might lead to demands for "enough" resources to ensure that students had "sufficient opportunities" to reach particular levels of achievement, as documented by standardized test scores. Nonetheless, Allen was determined to show that aid was not being wasted on ineffective programs. In keeping with his emphasis on effectiveness, he asked Congress to authorize a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a national system of tests designed to track variations and fluctuations in student achievement throughout the country over time. Allen called it a longitudinal, census-like system and, as scholar Lorrie Shepard has noted, "likened its purpose to the collection of health statistics on the incidence of heart disease and cancer for different age and occupational groups." By collecting achievement data, he hoped, schools would see where they needed to improve.

The contract for overseeing NAEP was given to the Education Commission of the States (ECS, which commissioner Allen, together with James Conant and Terry Sanford, helped to found)-a non-profit organization consisting of state governors, chief state school officers, and state legislators-in the hope of guarding the test from criticism for being a tool of federal control in schools. According to Shepard, "The independence of [NAEP] from specific educational programs or political jurisdictions was further assured by both its data collection methods and administrative structure. . . . [Test-takers] were sampled to represent regions of the country and urban, suburban, or rural districts-rather than specific states or districts." The idea was to assess the educational progress of the nation as a whole, to be presented through multi-state regions. Indeed, reporting results by individual students, school, district, or state was explicitly prohibited, and the NAEP in its original form had no punitive power over low-performing schools. For this reason, NAEP was not used directly to evaluate the "effectiveness" of any particular federal program. Yet, as Shepard has commented, "The very features of [the NAEP] that were designed to shelter it from politics were later blamed for the lack of public interest in the assessment's results." (Over time, NAEP was changed to enable reporting state-level-and some urban district-level-results.)

For commissioner Allen, the challenge was to prove the effectiveness of federally funded programs and, simultaneously, to push for racially desegregated schools. Allen believed that federal support for instructional programs should proceed side by side with the pursuit of racial integration. Yet, on this point, he and the president did not see eye to eye. Nixon tended to view federal support for compensatory education as a substitute for racial desegregation, and disagreement between Nixon and Allen on this issue grew more and more heated over time. Before Nixon took office in 1969, the federal courts had started to take a much more aggressive stance toward the issue of segregation in schools. In the case of Green v. New Kent County School Board, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools in Virginia had an "affirmative duty" to end racial segregation "root and branch" and had to establish a racially "unitary" school system without delay. Not surprisingly, this ruling provoked a bitter reaction from segregationists in the South-and their anger escalated rapidly over the next several years.

 

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