President George H W Bush

After the end of the Reagan administration, the federal emphasis on equity shifted. When President George H.W. Bush took office the federal emphasis gradually moved towards a greater focus on excellence and less on equity.

On April 5, 1989 President Bush submitted to Congress the Educational Excellence Act of 1989.

This was a seven-program education legislative proposal with the intent of achieving a better educated America.

The Republicans in Congress strongly opposed this Bill as they wished for less federal government intervention. However, they were not supported by the Democrats and the measure succeeded.

The Bush policy on education appears to have been based on the Standards movement. This move followed from his two-day summit with the fifty governors in Charlottesville, Virginia, in September 1989.

This meeting was dedicated to national education reform. At this meeting there was a basic agreement that there should be national education goals.1

Another very important point to note is that this was the year when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released its Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989).

This publication from such an august body greatly influenced the direction of the federal involvement in education.

Many observers, Tyack and Cuban2 among them, point out that an agreement such as that reached at the Virginia meeting, would have been an anathema not so long ago.

The extent of the federal government in education was further increased by President Bush when he granted a great deal of additional funds to Head Start.

Thus, the Head Start enrolment grew from 450,000 to 700,000 during his administration.

This emphasis on education results from a pledge by President Bush during his election campaign to be the “education president.”

His approach was fundamentally different from that of President Reagan, his predecessor, who made public his utter disdain for big government.

In the next post we will see how President Bush’s “America 2000” was readily embraced by his successor, William Jefferson Clinton.


1. McGuinn, No Child Left Behind and the Transformation of Federal Education Policy, 2006, 61

2. Tyack and Cuban, Tinkering toward Utopia A Century of Public-School Reform, 1995, 81