Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

The Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965 created equal opportunity for students in schools across the country. This lesson will examine the purpose and outcomes of the act and will end with a short quiz to see what you have learned.

Education in 1960s America

The 1960s in America was a time of great change and social unrest. President John F. Kennedy was voted in to office on the promise of creating a new country free of racial, economic and social division. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 leaving Lyndon B. Johnson, the former Vice President, as the leader of the country. Continuing what Kennedy had started, Johnson, a former teacher, quickly began to advocate for equality in education.

Equality, by definition, means that everyone has an equal opportunity to receive or participate in something. Johnson wanted to level the playing field in schools by increasing resources and opportunity for students living in poverty. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was designed to do just that.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

President Johnson believed that students from poor families needed more help than those from wealthier families. He wanted to empower students with a better education to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty and welfare that was so common in the 1960s. He developed the ESEA as a tool in his war against poverty. Congress passed the act on April 9, 1965.

President Johnson Discusses Equality in Education
President Johnson

ESEA gave approximately one billion dollars per year to schools in poverty-stricken areas. This allowed schools to build new schools, hire qualified teachers, and purchase resources such as textbooks and other tools designed to increase learning. These funds also increased the educational programs offered to students in low income areas.

The act even provided scholarships for low income graduates. ESEA was expanded in 1968 to add extra funds for the education of non-English speaking students. Now that we understand what ESEA is, let's take a look at the lasting impact it has had on education in America.

Lasting Impact of ESEA

While ESEA drastically increased resources for impoverished students, it was not considered a success by all. Many people were frustrated that billions of dollars were being poured into schools in underperforming areas. Others did not feel comfortable with this increase in the federal government's role in education, an area that had been mostly governed at the state level prior to this act being passed.

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