After a landslide victory for Johnson and a strong coattail effect (where, due to Johnson’s popularity several other Democrats won elections to the House and Senate), the Democrats were in a good position to pass educational policy which would increase the federal role in education. Despite a favorable political atmosphere, it was not inevitable that the ESEA would pass. Two major political debates specifically could have held the bill back. The first political question was a matter of finance distribution and the second went back to the age old debate over the separation of church and state.

The distribution of funds for the ESEA is a really interesting and complex problem. Some people believe that the funds should be distributed to poorer states in order to equalize the education system. This becomes a really complex problem because of the deeply rooted “Protestant work ethic” in America or the belief that if you work hard you will be successful. Typically this also leads to the belief that if one person (or group) works hard and succeeds, another person (or group) should not reap the benefits. In the case of the ESEA this became a debate between the richer, more industrial states in the North versus the poorer, rural states in the South. Davies broaches the question, “How could legislators representing more affluent parts of the country be persuaded to back such a measure?” If those from affluent communities already pay high taxes to support their own schools, how could they also be expected to pay more to support poor communities as well? Another interesting question comes out of this funding distribution debate: Could the rich, Northern states be expected to fund illegally segregated Southern school. This is a really interesting point since many democrats expected to vote for the ESEA has worked to outlaw segregation in the first place. Ultimately the question became should more affluent groups be expected put aside their firm beliefs in the Protestant work ethic to aid poor schools in the name of equality of opportunity (another fundamental American political belief).

The separation of church and state was perhaps an even more difficult barrier facing the ESEA. Everyone who has ever read the Constitution knows that the First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;” however, the ESEA wants to use federal funds to aid poor students who attend parochial schools in addition to public schools. Johnson and other proponents of the bill hoped that the Supreme Court would continue to support the “child-benefit theory” which they established in 1947 during Everson vs. Board of Education. In Everson a New Jersey law reimbursing families of students (who attended both public and private schools) for using public transportation to get to school. The Court addressed the question: Did the New Jersey statute violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The Court answered no because it benefited all students equally and it did not directly benefit any institution (ie parochial schools). The ESEA hoped to use the same logic to aid poor students who attended parochial schools. The major question that needed to be addressed in this case was should the government be able to fund religious based schools?

After much deliberation in committee, the bill passed relatively quickly through Congress. In the end the bill passed 263 votes to 153 votes. However, government officials worried about the longevity of the bill due to these fundamental political questions. Could the bill withstand a shift in power from strongly liberal to conservative?

My interest in education is very simple, I want to be a teacher. The story of me becoming a teacher is cliché at best. It started in first grade when I had an awesome teacher, and somehow it dawned on my six year old self that this was my calling. I ran with it. In middle school I fell in love with social studies and I knew that is what I had to teach. Again, I ran with it. In high school, I realized teaching was infinitely more complicated than I originally thought. There was the omnipresent hand of No Child Left Behind lingering over every teacher in my school. Government was not only forcing teachers hands, but it was affecting my education.

Education policy is comprised of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a mess that many teachers in America don’t try to understand. It’s easy to feel far removed from policy passed in Washington but policy affects how classrooms are run across the country. It dictates what teachers teach, how much money schools get, and even what students are eating for lunch. I am interested in learning about education policy to understand  how curriculum policy works and how I can best implement it in my classroom. I am also interested in how policy affects different kinds of students (low income students, ESL students, etc.), I think it is important to understand policy to advocate for your students.

I am also a political science major, so I have an intrinsic interest in policy and how it develops and changes over time. I like looking at how different political climates lead to different types of policy. I have been incredibly interested to read about the Reagan Revolution and the political climate behind the famous report, “A Nation at Risk.” I look forward to delving deeper into the events leading up to the Reagan administration.

I would also like to more deeply examine present day educational policies like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core. I feel like I only have a shallow understanding of these programs and the events surrounding them even though they happened in my lifetime. I also really want to look at how these programs are affecting the future of teaching and education in America. Are standardized tests here to stay, will they fall by the wayside in the near future? I would like to project the course of education in our nation and the evolution of policy in the coming years.

Overall I am really looking forward to delving deeper into educational policies past, present, and future. I hope this experience can make me a better teacher and give me a better understanding of the state of the educational system in America.