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THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE EDUCATIONAL POLICIES AND PROGRAM OF THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION Gordon Cawelti Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected President by an electoral vote of 489 to 49 over incumbent Jimmy Carter. Among both Reagan supporters and others, his margin of victory was interpreted as a mandate for his platform of cutting taxes, reducing inflation, balancing the budget, getting government "off our backs," and restoring our national defense posture. In reality, however, Reagan's vote plurality victory was only marginal. It has always been my impression that the media can make presidential contenders out of extremely marginal candidates — as were Ronald Reagan in 1979 and George Wallace in 1971, and as Jesse Jackson was in the 1984 primaries. Such persons, despite their lack of experience, are great communicators who are able to oversimplify and dramatize emotional but relatively meaningless issues that other candidates, in trying not to offend significant segments of the voting population, choose not to overemphasize. Reagan, of course, made it all the way, despite being generally recognized as the least well-informed candidate in a long while. His strengths were a well-articulated conservative philosophy and a cabinet of followers sharing, as was to be expected, similar views. No one doubted what James Watt thought about most issues. In the eyes of many in the education community, Reagan ran largely on "nonissues," such as restoring prayer in the schools, eliminating the newly established Department of Education, and providing tuition tax credits and vouchers. He managed to make deep cuts in social spending in his first year in office by using Republican congressional support and by converting several Democrats to go along with his "mandate." Nevertheless, education cuts were far less substantial than those Reagan sought, due, strangely enough, to the efforts of a few key congressional leaders such as Senators Weicker and Stafford and Congressman John Ashbrook. -2Terrel Bell's appointment as the second Secretary of Education was early on described as necessary only to oversee the phasing out of the department. Still, the education community greeted Bell as a welcome relief after the inexperienced Hufstedler tour. Although one suspects it may have been necessary for Secretary Bell to compromise some earlier beliefs and values, he nonetheless set out to run the department and provide leadership as best he could under circumstances which included many political appointees with far more conservative views on education than either Bell's or the President's. In a little-noted move, Bell appointed a commission to study and make recommendations on American education that ultimately were to have a substantial impact on schools. Where the Reagan Philosophy is Felt Categorical funds. Through the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, the socalled block grant of Chapter 2 vastly complicated categorical funding procedures. School people were ready for a plan to get them out of competition for many small grants. While categorical aid advocates argued that this produced unhealthy competition for their particular interests, others felt deregulation was greatly needed. DOE personnel cuts. The FY85 budget proposal presented in February, 1984, offered an overall reduction of Department of Education employees by 33 percent, from 7,409 employees in 1981 to 4,979 in 1985. This, of course, depends on congressional authorization. Bilingual education. Very early in the Reagan Administration, Secretary Bell withdrew controversial regulations that had sought to impose a relatively narrow approach to instruction of students of limited-English-speaking ability. From the original 1968 legislation authorizing the Bilingual Education Act to the historic Lau vs. Nichols Supreme Court decision in 1974, the complexities of this issue were understood by only a few, but argued loudly by many. Interestingly, careful analysts of the issue tend to refute most of the uninformed criticism of bilingual education/ -3School integration. The arrival of new appointees to the Justice Department and Office of Civil Rights has made it easier to extract settlements in litigation calling for desegregation by proposing voluntary plans or magnet schools such as those in Bakersfield, California, and St. Louis, Missouri. Experience shows that such plans rarely provide substantial remedies to civil rights violations, particularly in urban areas. Because such settlements come in marked contrast to...


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