Miller Center

Riding the Tiger > Category: Education

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Christopher P. Loss: Keep LBJ’s ‘Door to Education’ Open

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, former Miller Center National Fellow and assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University Christopher P. Loss makes the case for keeping the door to education open. The Higher Education Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, is up for reauthorization this year. When he signed the bill, LBJ remarked:

The president's signature upon this legislation passed by this Congress will swing open a new door for the young people of America. For them, and for this entire land of ours, it is the most important door that will ever open — the door to education.

The landmark $3 billion act provided aid for land grant urban extension programs; assistance for construction projects; created the Teachers Corps; lent support to historically black colleges; and provided student assistance in the form of work study, loans and grants that revolutionized college-going in the U.S.

According Loss, this year, for the first time in recent memory there exists genuine concern that the door the act opened is starting to shut:

The "cost crisis" in higher education, now more than four decades in the making, has finally come home to roost.

Loss argues that various plans to “reform” higher education aid by tying aid to cost, value and quality — that is, to outcomes and accountability rather than access and opportunity — will not only hurt poor students but the entire higher education system. Instead, Loss proposes:

[W]e should mine the past for approaches that we know will keep "the door to education" open. The Pell Grant should be expanded and restored to its full purchasing power. To pay for it, regressive education tax credits favoring high earners should be abandoned and along with it financial aid to for-profit education providers, where the dropout, debt and default rates are highest and always have been. Colleges should be required to provide applicants with easy access to real pricing information to help with the choice process. And the income-based loan repayment program should be streamlined and a national service program created to put college graduates to work. After all, we don’t just need doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists; we also need teachers, artists, historians, and community organizers.

Read the entire article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Do the Candidates Really Want to Wake the Sleeping Issue of School Reform?

 Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind

Visiting Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio, Jan. 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind Act. White House photo by Paul Morse. PD.

Education is a sleeper issue in the 2012 election campaign. But do the candidates really want to wake it? Given the struggling nature of the economy and the ongoing risk of economic meltdown in Europe, perhaps it is no surprise that the issue has received relatively little attention from the mass media. If recent public opinion polls are to be believed, however, education is highly salient in the minds of voters. Indeed, according to a recent CNN poll, 78% of Americans report that education will have a major impact on their vote in the presidential election.

At the same time – and despite sharp partisan conflict between Democrats and Republicans in Congress – education has been an area of major, albeit submerged, programmatic reform in 2012. While major statutory reforms to federal education policies have not been forthcoming, behind-the-scenes administrative changes have profoundly altered the premier federal policy affecting elementary and secondary education: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Indeed, using its waiver authority, the Obama administration has, over the past few months, released more than thirty states from some of NCLB’s most controversial provisions, including the requirement that all students reach academic proficiency by 2014.

Given the level of public interest and the significance of recent policy changes, will the sleeper awake in time for the upcoming October 3 presidential debate on domestic policymaking? So far, neither Obama nor his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has made much of the issue during the campaign. Still, it’s possible that education could play an important part in the debate, because the issue fits into the broader narrative that each campaign wants to tell voters going into the election. For the Obama team, the waiver decisions represent yet another pragmatic presidential response to partisan Republican intransigence, and thus highlight the president’s responsible leadership style. Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, suggested as much in the statement announcing the most recent waiver requests. “More and more states can’t wait any longer for education reform,” Duncan intoned. “A strong bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act remains the best path forward in education reform, but as these states have demonstrated, our kids can’t wait any longer for Congress to Act.” Additionally, by touting his willingness to allow “states the flexibility to use local solutions to improve their schools”, as he does on his campaign website, Obama may be hoping to inoculate himself against charges, made repeatedly by his Republican opponent, that his administration has aggressively centralized political power in the federal government.

Brown v. Board of Education and Education Reform

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Topeka, Kansas, USA - Monroe Elementary school, where racial segregation was challenged in 1954

Fifty-eight years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education that "separate educational facilities" for black and white students were "inherently unequal" and therefore unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the May 18, 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that continued to uphold the legality of Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination. But has real progress been made? How might politicians consider racial inequality in debates over education reform this election season?

Education and the 2012 Election

Department of Education, 2006

Department of Education in 2006. Photo by M. V. Jantzen.

Today's guest post is from Christopher P. Loss, assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University, and former Miller Center National Fellow. This piece originally appeared on the Princeton University Press Election 101 blog.

Universities Aren’t Just Economic Tools

Today we welcome a post from Ethan Schrum, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, on President Obama's proposals from the campaign trail for higher education.  This column first appeared in the Commentary section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In his budget speech Monday at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, President Obama continued to beat the drum for the bold higher education policy proposals that he announced in his recent State of the Union address and a subsequent speech at the University of Michigan.

A lot of people are talking about the specific proposals, but almost nobody is talking about the overarching rhetoric in which he wrapped them.