Thursday, 29 November 2012

10 Most Important Education Laws in American History

Even in non-election years, education remains at the forefront of most Americans’ social, political, and economic concerns. Or it should, anyway. Seeing as how the public school system is run by the, uh, government, it ought to come as no shock to anyone whatsoever that some legislation stands as more groundbreaking than others.
Do keep in mind that this article only includes federal laws, though legislation passed at the state level can obviously still hold influence. Like compulsory education. That’s kind of a big deal. But we’re sticking with the rulings that govern all the states, because so many variations exist from one to the other it’d be hard to discuss them without keeping you here all day.
  1. Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:

    The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, guarantees equal protection under the law across demographics and, obviously, does not exclusively cover education. But it played a major role in shaping the American public education system when invoked during many different Supreme Court cases involving state schools. Most significant of the lot: Brown v. The Board of Educationout of Kansas, which overturned Plessey v. Ferguson in 1954. This decision marked a turning point in Civil Rights by declaring “separate but equal” and otherwise racially segregated schools absolutely unconstitutional. A decision which wound up provoking backwards governors like Arkansas’ Orval Faubus and Alabama’s George Wallace to infamously attempt blocking the first black students from entering traditionally white state schools.
  2. Serviceman’s Readjustment Act:

    But you might know it better as the G.I. Bill. Because the rights of veterans remained such a nebulous milieu prior to its 1944 approval, this legislation meant to clearly define their earned entitlements upon return. Most individuals these days tend to think of the law as providing free or low-cost college tuition and living expenses for active and former members of the Armed Forces, though the benefits extend to include assistance with mortgages and business startups. These perks, particularly the ones involving education, all help them reintegrate back into mainstream American society after serving time in the military, an essential service for them and their families.
  3. The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act:

    Poor nutrition wreaks havoc on cognitive ability and academic performance, even in otherwise intelligent, capable students. The National School Lunch Act, as the legislation is more commonly known, sought to close the achievement gap between socioeconomic classes by providing free or reduced-cost meals to qualifying students. It also addressed the issue of farm surpluses, but that’s not as relevant to this article. Since 1946, it has ensured students from low-income households receive healthy breakfasts and lunches during the school year. But with the addition of the Summer Food Service Program, they are also guaranteed better nutrition even when school dismisses for a few months.
  4. Higher Education Act of 1965:

    Part of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, HEA continues eliciting controversy but still remains an influential law hovering over the American public school system. It receives consistent ratification in order to accommodate current social, political, and economic factors, but at its core it seeks to fiscally bolster the college and university system with the hopes of providing more opportunities for more students. Scholarships and affordable loans are also made available to students requiring financial aid, and the legislation also established the National Teachers Corps. Because it allowed a higher number of Americans to attend institutes of higher learning, however hair-rippingly bureaucratic the Financial Aid process has proven, it’s probably safe to refer to the HEA as an influential little piece of government.
  5. Bilingual Education Act:

    With America’s increasingly diverse societal makeup, 1968’s Bilingual Education Act sometimes seems even more relevant than before. Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, to which it is sometimes referred, provided funding to schools in order to help them better accommodate students for whom English was not their first language. Because the linguistic barrier so often caused kids to lag behind in their grades (which obviously does not reflect on their overall aptitude or intelligence!), this boost helps provide equal opportunities so everyone in the public school system, regardless of their mother tongue or nation of origin, enjoys a shot at academic success.
  6. Title IX:

    Although Title IX frequently appears in discussions regarding athletics, particularly when it comes to colleges and universities attempting to subvert the regulations, its reach hits points well beyond that. Basically, it requires any institution receiving federal funding to not discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to doling out money to extracurricular activities and other programs. That’s all the simple, straightforward Title IX asks, yet today it still manages to wind up in the center of major controversies in schools angry that they can’t fund men’s sports as much as they’d prefer.
  7. Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974:

    The Fourteenth Amendment proved pivotal in ultimately desegregating public institutes of learning, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 helped further the cause of racial equality in the public school system. Essentially, it made discrimination against faculty, administrators, staff, and students on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or color illegal. Which is more or less what one would expect the law to be about, considering the title and everything. In 1982, it played a significant part in the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, ultimately requiring public schools to provide equal-opportunity education for the children of undocumented immigrants.
  8. Family Education Rights and Privacy Act:

    Students (and their parents, for those under the age of 18) enjoy more autonomy and privacy regarding their education records thanks to this 1974 legislation. FERPA, also known as the Buckley Amendment, granted them the right to refuse or permit their schools from transferring information back and forth as well as some degree of control over grades and even behavioral comments. Meaning they can legally dispute them if they feel teachers proved unfair in their assessments. Kids today tend to take this small shred of freedom for granted, but as anyone who has ever grappled with a genuinely unearned grade or unjust accusation of disruptive or dysfunctional socializing can attest, FERPA has proven itself a very good thing indeed.
  9. Education for All Handicapped Children Act:

    Originally passed in 1975 by Gerald Ford, this legislation paved the way for 1990’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an updated revision of its tenets. Upon launch, public schools receiving federal funding were required to provide students with disabilities (mental and physical) with all the necessary resources and techniques for scholastic success, as well as one free meal per day. Parents also received more say in how the schools educated their special needs children, though for the most part the kids wound up in the environments providing the most opportunities. IDEA built upon this foundation by stressing the development of skills needed to enter into vocational and higher education training, covering students between birth and age 18 to 21.
  10. No Child Left Behind Act:

    When critics point to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, they point toward the infamous No Child Left Behind Act as evidence. The clusterbombing of crazy began in 2001 and continues widening the class gap well into this horrendous economic climate. At the core of its controversy sits a rigid adherence to standardized testing as the be-all, end-all of scholastic achievement. Since NCLBA determines where funding goes based on how well districts perform on these exams, with more money feeding into more successful schools, this means schools with fewer resources and more novice teachers (aka “low-income neighborhoods that needs the opportunities”) continue getting left behind (pun intended).

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