American Presidents and Education

By Maurice R. Berube | Go to book overview

1950 nearly 2.7 million students were in college. 43 By 1986, 54.8 percent of the cohort age attended college, totaling over 12.5 million students. 44

One can perceive the development of presidents' awareness of the economic basis for education through their economic reports made after World War II. Recognizing the importance of a more complex economy, Congress enacted the Employment Act of 1946 with the aim to "declare a national policy on employment, production, and purchasing power, and for other purposes." 45

Under the act, the president is instructed to submit to Congress within sixty days an economic report on the nation. In order to "assist and advise the President in the preparation of the Economic Report" 46 a Council of Economic Advisers would be provided to him. The council is comprised of three economists chosen by the president with Senate confirmation. In addition to assessing the economic state of the nation, the council is instructed "to develop and recommend to the President national economic policies." 47

This landmark in national economic planning also serves as a gauge of presidential awareness of the link of education to the economy. The first report totaled 47 pages; that in 1990, 419 pages.

In his first report in 1947, President Harry S Truman viewed education primarily as a means of social mobility. Moreover, he perceived a connection between government programs and educational effectiveness. He concluded that "relatively small government expenditures for health and education yield high dividends." 48 By 1950, he had greater respect for education for economic well-being. "In such fields as resource development, education, health and social security," he declared, "government programs are essential elements of our economic strength." 49 Indeed, he made education his sixth legislative recommendation: to provide federal aid to elementary and secondary education as well as a "limited program of aid in support of higher education." 50

By 1990, the link of education to the economy was made even stronger. President George Bush's Council of Economic Advisers was more cognizant of the requirements of a technological society. "The new jobs created by the economy," the advisers wrote, "increasingly require high levels of education." 51 The "building of human capital," they concluded, "requires improving the performance of the nation's elementary and secondary schools." 52 However, departing from Truman's (and the Democrats') philosophy of government spending, the Bush council believed that the task was "not to invest more money in education, but to invest more effectively." 53


NOTES
1.
James W. Caesar, "The Rhetorical Presidency Revisited," in Modern Presidents and the Presidency, ed. Marc Landry ( Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1985), pp. 15-34.

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American Presidents and Education
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1 - Education and the Presidency 1
  • Notes 9
  • 2 - Education for Democracy 13
  • Notes 27
  • 3 - Education for the Economy 31
  • Notes 52
  • 4 - Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) and the Equity Reform Movement 59
  • Notes 81
  • 5 - Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and the Excellence Reform Movement 87
  • Notes 115
  • 6 - George Bush (1989- ) and National Standards 121
  • Notes 138
  • 7 - A National Framework 143
  • Notes 152
  • Bibliography 155
  • Index 165
  • About the Author 171
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