Academic journal article Education Next

Remembering an Education President: George H.W. Bush Led by Enabling, Not Mandating, State and Local Reform

Academic journal article Education Next

Remembering an Education President: George H.W. Bush Led by Enabling, Not Mandating, State and Local Reform

Article excerpt

DURING HIS 1988 CAMPAIGN, George H. W. Bush said, "I want to be the education president." Was he?

No, says the K-12 Teachers Alliance. It ranks "education presidents" based on their use of federal mandates to direct school success--as Bill Clinton did with Goals 2000, George W. Bush did with No Child Left Behind, and Barack Obama did with Race to the Top and conditional waivers to federal law.

Yes, I say. I still believe what I wrote in 1993 after serving 22 months as Bush's education secretary: "When the dust settles and the history books are written, President George H. W. Bush's leadership in education will be recognized as among his most significant and lasting contributions."

Instead of relying on federal mandates, Bush in 1989 convened a national summit of governors to establish six national education goals focusing on improved graduation and literacy rates; student achievement; school readiness; and the elimination of drugs and violence in schools. Then, in April 1991, he launched the bipartisan America 2000 strategy in every state to mobilize the country, community by community, toward meeting those goals.

In addition to America 2000, the president's agenda included a series of truly radical initiatives: 1) a new set of voluntary national standards in core-curriculum subjects, including science, history, English, geography, arts, civics, and foreign languages (math already was done); 2) a voluntary national examination system geared to those new standards; 3) a new generation of thousands of start-from-scratch, break-the-mold, and public charter schools; 4) more autonomy and flexibility for teachers in their classrooms through the waiver of federal rules and regulations; and 5) a $500 million GI Bill for Children to give middle- and low-income families $1,000 scholarships to spend at any lawfully operated school of their choice (which Congress did not approve). With the nation's governors, he created the bipartisan National Education Goals Panel of governors, members of Congress, and administration officials to monitor progress toward the goals. The private, nonprofit New American Schools Development Corporation raised $50 million to fund design teams to help communities create break-the-mold schools.

Enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 confirms that most governors, teachers, superintendents, parents, school board members, and members of Congress today agree with H. …

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