Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools

Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools The Politics of Education Reform

Jack Jennings, Foreword by Michael J. Feuer
paper, 272 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-796-5
Price: 35.00

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Pub. Date: March 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-798-9
April 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the landmark legislation that has provided the foundation of federal education policy in the United States. In Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools, longtime policy analyst Jack Jennings examines the evolution of federal education policy and outlines a bold and controversial vision for its future.
Jennings brings an insider’s knowledge to this account, offering a vivid analysis of federal efforts in the education arena and revealing some of the factors that shaped their enactment. His rich descriptions and lively anecdotes provide pointed lessons about the partisan climate that stymies much federal policy making today. After assessing the impacts of Title I and NCLB, and exploring the variety of ways that the federal government has intervened in education, Jennings sets forth an ambitious agenda for reframing education as a federal civil right and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to learn.


No one knows more about ESEA and especially Title I than Jack Jennings. Here he tells a remarkably unbiased, informed, and crisp story about the politics, battles, and decisions made by Congress over the past fifty years. As Jennings makes clear, the story is not over. His conclusions propose a new and important course for Congress. — Marshall (Mike) Smith, former under secretary, U.S. Department of Education

Jennings has written an admirably bold proposal for overhauling the federal role in K–12 education, with an eye to both student learning and equity. Arguing that NCLB has not lived up to its promise, he presents a blueprint for an improved balance in the federal-state relationship, one providing flexibility and accountability. His ideas merit serious attention and debate. — Elizabeth DeBray, professor of educational administration and policy, University of Georgia

Only Jack Jennings could have written this unique and important account of federal involvement in education. Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools is a must-read contribution to American education policy that will stimulate important conversations about our future. — Gene Wilhoit, founder and executive director, Center for Innovation in Education, and partner, Student Achievement Partners

If you agree with everything in this book you probably didn't read it closely. But if you don't read it you're missing a unique account of federal education policy from someone who was in the middle of it for decades. Jennings offers a concise history and some ideas about new directions that show what federal education policy has accomplished and how much work remains. — Andrew J. Rotherham, cofounder and partner, Bellwether Education

Jennings’s book provides wonderful contributions to our understanding of the federal politics of education. — Gerard Robinson, Journal of School Choice

This is a thorough accounting of past federal education policy that also offers innovative, much-needed solutions to revitalize a troubled national public school system. — Youth Today

This is a great historical read for those interested in the chronology of federal legislation on public education. In light of the current polarization of our political parties and their stances on public education, this book is also a good research tool for the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. — Robert J. Clark, AASA

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About the Author

John F. "Jack" Jennings founded the Center on Education Policy in January 1995 and was its CEO and president until he retired in 2012. According to a poll of national leaders conducted by Education Week, that Center was one of the ten most influential organizations affecting school policy in the United States.

From 1967 to 1994, Mr. Jennings served as subcommittee staff director and then as a general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor. In these positions, he was involved in nearly every major education debate held at the national level, including the reauthorizations of such important legislation as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Vocational Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Higher Education Act, and the National School Lunch Act.

Mr. Jennings served on the board of trustees of the Educational Testing Service, the Title I Independent Review Panel, the Pew Forum on Standards-Based Reform, the Maryland Academic Intervention Steering Committee, and the Maryland Visionary Panel. Mr. Jennings is currently a member of the National Academy of Education, and serves on the board of governors of the Phi Delta Kappa Foundation. He also served as chair of the PDK Foundation board.

Over the years, he has received awards from dozens of organizations, and recently was the recipient of awards for distinguished public service from the American Educational Research Association and from Phi Delta Kappa. Most recently, he has been honored with the Education Visionary Award by the Learning First Alliance (a coalition of the country’s major national public education organizations), the Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League, and the Meritorious Service Award from the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators.

Mr. Jennings’s book Why National Standards and Tests? Politics and the Quest for Better Schools was published by Sage Publications in 1998. He has also edited four volumes on National Issues in Education which were published by Phi Delta Kappa: The Past is Prologue (May 1993), Community Service and Student Loans (June 1994), Goals 2000 and School-to-Work (January 1995), and Elementary and Secondary Education Act (July 1995).

Mr. Jennings writes a blog for the Huffington Post. He has also written numerous articles, including twelve for the Kappan, more than any other single contributor for that prestigious magazine. He is one of the authorities on education most cited in the news media. For example, he was quoted in Education Week more than 500 times from 1995 to 2011.

He holds an AB from Loyola University and a JD from Northwestern University School of Law, and has been a member of several legal bars, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Michael J. Feuer

Interview with Author

Discussion Questions

Blog Post: "Will Education Flourish After NCLB's Repeal?"

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