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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, AMERICAN HISTORY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 18 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

Americans almost universally agree on the importance of education to the success of individuals and the strength of the nation. Yet they have long differed over the proper mission of government in overseeing their schools. Before 1945, these debates largely occurred at the local and state levels. Since 1945, as education has become an increasingly national and international concern, the federal government has played a larger role in the nation’s schools. As Americans gradually have come to accept a greater federal presence in elementary and secondary schools, however, members of Congress and presidents from both major parties have continued to argue over the scope and substance of the federal role. From 1945 to 1965, these arguments centered on the quest for equity between rich and poor public school pupils and between public and nonpublic school students. From 1965 to 1989, national lawmakers devoted much of their attention to the goal of excellence in public education. From 1989 to the present, they have quarreled over how best to attain equity and excellence at the same time.

Keywords: Brown v. Board of Education, Common Core, Department of Education, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Lemon v. Kurtzman, National Commission on Excellence in Education, National Defense Education Act, No Child Left Behind Act, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

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