Publication Date

April 1, 2001

Perspectives Section


Education Takes Center Stage in Bush Administration

For years, the Department of Education (DOE) was one of a number of federal agencies that Republicans in Congress have wanted to eliminate. Today, the agency is a favorite with President George W. Bush, who has vowed to make education his administration’s top priority. “Bipartisan education reform will be the cornerstone of my administration,” Bush stated during his first week in office. While the federal government only provides about 7 percent of the total amount spent nationwide on education, the DOE is viewed as pivotal in carrying out education reform throughout the country.

Bush’s broad education proposal entitled “No Child Left Behind” calls for a significant overhaul of federal education policy. The conceptual framework (at this writing a specific legislative proposal is still being crafted by administration officials) puts the states center stage and seeks to enhance their freedom over funding in exchange for rigorous, standardized, annual testing of students. The Bush plan would require that states test students and, in return, schools would be “rewarded” or “punished” based on those results. In addition, a controversial “voucher” program would be launched where children attending failing public schools could enroll in better schools, using their vouchers to help defray their individual education costs. The president’s proposal also includes increasing aid to poorly performing schools, expanding reading programs, and providing more funds for special education.

The president’s call for education reform was quickly answered with a flurry of legislative proposals originating from both Republicans and Democrats. The House Democrats, for example, proposed a $110 billion school package that is about 75 percent in agreement with the Bush administration’s proposals. The Democrats’ conceptual framework for education reform, tentatively titled “The Public Education Reinvestment, Reinvention, and Responsibility Act” (note the three “R”s), was announced by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). The plan calls on states and local school districts to enter into a new compact with the federal government to raise standards and improve educational opportunities through a program that streamlines 50 federal education programs into five categorical block grants that would be channeled to the states. Lieberman’s “New Democratic Plan” would increase spending on education by $35 billion over five years. In a nutshell, the program seeks- in Senator Lieberman’s words-to “invest in reform and insist on results.”

At this writing, there is no specific program in either the Republican or Democratic proposals that articulates the need for enhanced history or social studies education reform and neither plan appears to earmark funds for history or social studies education-at least not to the extent that both the Bush and Lieberman plans focus on “fostering English proficiency” (the Democratic plan seeks to increase overall aid for teaching of English by more than 250 percent to $1 billion). However, the Bush plan does mandate “that states set challenging content standards in history and science.”

$50 Million “History Education” Update

As the Bush administration and Congress begin to craft a budget proposal for education in fiscal 2002, DOE officials are working on the administrative details relating to the $50 million earmarked for history education in the fiscal 2001 DOE appropriations bill (see “NCC Advocacy Update” in the March 2001 Perspectives). According to recent DOE news postings, the funds are designed “to improve the quality of instruction in American history, as distinct from general social studies education. Grant awards will be designed to assist elementary and secondary schools in implementing research-based methods for improving the quality of instruction, professional development and teacher education in American history. The funds will be used for competitive grants to local education agencies (LEAs) or consortia of LEAs where appropriate.”

The DOE has informed the NCC that 100 to 120 grants in the estimated range of $300,000 to $700,000 (with the average grant being $500,000) will be competitively awarded. Grants will be available for up to three years (depending upon the availability of funding after 2001). Applications should be available May 1 with a June 30, 2001, anticipated closing date. The DOE expects to have a web site up and running in the near future. Details about the program can be obtained from Christine Miller or Gillian Cohen at (202) 260-8230.

“History of the House” Advisory Committee Meets

On January 25, 2001, the first meeting of the History of the House Advisory Board was held at the Library of Congress. The board was formed pursuant to Representative John B. Larson (D-Conn.) legislation (P. L. 106-99) that directs the Library of Congress to write a comprehensive history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Larson, a former high school history teacher, represents the first congressional district in Connecticut.

Attending the meeting in addition to Representative Larson were several congressional members of the board, James Billington (librarian of Congress), political scientist Barbara Sinclair (Univ. of California), and historians Robert V. Remini (Univ. of Illinois at Chicago), Joel Silbey (Cornell Univ.), and G. Edward White (Univ. of Virginia). The group discussed many issues, including the number of authors needed to write such a book, who the author or authors would be, the general thrust of the book, matters relating to cost, and prospects for publishing.

This initial meeting of the board was not open to the public. A spokesperson for Representative Larson, however, stated that while discussions were very “preliminary,” the general consensus of the attending was that the book probably would take a minimum of two years to research and write. Reportedly, the board members concluded that the book must have the “mega-story” of the history of the House by bringing together both people and events. Rather than engage multiple authors, various members of the group stated their view that the book ought to be written by a single author, backed by a competent research team. Finally, discussion led to the conclusion that the book should not be specifically targeted just to new House members but should be written in such a way as to be appealing to both a scholarly and general audience.

Committee Assignments Update

House Resources Committee Chair Jim Hansen (R-Utah) announced his committee’s various subcommittee chairs. Selected to head the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands (the subcommittee with authorizing authority over national parks and historical preservation issues) is Representative Joel Hefley (R-Colo.). Hefley represents the fifth congressional district in Colorado and has been a member of Congress since 1987. He is the author of H.R. 107—a bill to authorize a study to identify sites and resources for commemorating and interpreting the Cold War. It is expected that Hefley will provide a sympathetic ear to the needs and interests of the historical community.

Two Bills Seek to Memorialize Ronald Reagan

The 90th birthday of former President Ronald Reagan (February 6) was recognized by members of Congress with the introduction of two pieces of legislation. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) introduced H.R. 400—a bill to authorize the secretary of the interior to establish the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Dixon, Illinois. Representative James Hansen (R-Utah), who chairs the House Resources Committee, introduced H.R. 452—a bill to authorize the establishment of a memorial to former President Reagan in the District of Columbia. Both legislative proposals were scheduled for hearings before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands on March 8.

Speaker Hastert’s bill seeks to designate the former president’s boyhood home a National Historic Site. As presently drafted, the legislation directs the secretary of the interior to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Foundation for the management and operation of the site to National Park Service (NPS) standards. The NPS is charged to develop (in consultation with the foundation) a general management plan within two years of the legislation’s enactment.

Representative Hansen’s bill—the “Ronald Reagan Memorial Act of 2001″—follows on the heels of similar controversial legislation (H.R. 4800) introduced during the 106th Congress by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska). That bill also sought to establish a memorial in the District of Columbia on NPS lands in the area of the Mall west of the Capitol and east of the Lincoln Memorial. According to the most recent legislation, recommending a specific location and selecting a design would fall to the three-member Ronald Reagan Memorial Commission, which would be established with the enactment of this legislation. Controversy is expected to center on one section of the bill that seeks to exempt the legislation from a provision of the Commemorative Works Act, which specifies that someone had to be deceased 25 years before a monument can be considered. In the final weeks of the 106th Congress, Young’s legislation was reported out of committee but failed to reach the House floor in time for action by the full Congress. Rapid action on this legislation by the committee and the full House of Representatives is expected.

Legislation to Designate Kate Mullany National Historic Site

Representative Michael McNulty (D.-N. Y.) has introduced legislation (H.R. 464) to establish the Kate Mullany National Historic Site (NHS) in Troy, New York. This legislation has been several years in the making. It is based on the findings of a National Historic Landmark theme study on American labor history that concluded that the Mullany house meets the criteria of “national significance, suitability, and feasibility” for inclusion as a unit of the National Park System. Mullany’s house was the home of the first women’s labor union.

The legislation focuses on more than just the activities of labor leader Iactivist Kate Mullany. It recognizes the unique role that Troy, New York (today parts of Troy are designated a state heritage area representing industrial development and labor themes) played in the development of the iron industry as well as the “collar and cuff industry,” and the rise of men’s and women’s worker and cooperative organizations. Establishment of the Mullany House NHS, which is located at 350 Eighth Street in Troy, would be the catalyst for a cooperative interpretive and preservation endeavor by the NPS and the Hudson-Mohawk Urban Cultural Park Commission. The legislation authorizes the NPS to acquire the property “by donation, purchase from willing sellers with donated or appropriated funds, or exchange.” No hearing date for the legislation has been set.

Library of Congress to Lead Digital Information Program

The Library of Congress has received a $100 million special appropriation to develop a national program to preserve the burgeoning amounts of digital information, especially materials that are created in digital formats, to insure their accessibility for current and future generations. The program will be spearheaded by Laura Campbell, the library’s recently appointed associate librarian for strategic initiatives.

Congress has directed the library to make the project a collaborative effort. The legislation calls for the library to work jointly with the secretary of commerce, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Archives and Records Administration. The legislation also empowers the library to seek the participation of “other federal, research and private libraries and institutions with expertise in the collection and maintenance of archives of digital materials.” Meetings with various partners have already been initiated.

The $100 million is to be spent as follows: $25 million to develop and execute a congressionally approved strategic plan for a National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program of which $5 million may be spent during the initial phase for planning as well as the acquisition and preservation of digital information that may otherwise vanish. Up to $75 million may be made available if matched by nonfederal donations.

Museum of the Civil War Opens

The National Civil War Museum, a $38.5 million project that traces the history of the conflict, opened February 12, 2001, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. While Richmond, Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland, also have plans in the works for similar museums, officials operating the new 66,000-square-foot museum claim that theirs is the only such facility that tells the story of the entire Civil War, not just the story of a single battle or specific aspect of the war. The state of Pennsylvania contributed $16.2 million toward the construction costs. Some 12,000 artifacts comprise the museum’s collection, of which only about 10 percent will be on display at any given time.

More Nixon Presidential Materials Released

On April 5, 2001, the National Archives and Records Administration will release some 48 cubic feet of materials from the Nixon presidential collection. Included in the release are materials from the White House central and subject files. In addition, a number of documents that were previously withheld from public access have been rereviewed, declassified, and released. For further information, contact Karl Weissenbach, director of the Nixon materials staff, at (301) 713-6950.

Number of PhDs Drops

A new report states that the number of new PhDs dropped for the first time since 1985. The report, “Survey of Earned Doctorates” conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, states that the biggest declines have not come in the humanities fields but in engineering and the physical sciences. The social sciences, humanities, and education showed the smallest decreases. A total of 41,140 PhDs were awarded by 392 American universities in 1999—down 3.6 percent from the previous year. Of these, 5,435 were humanities PhDs; degrees in history accounted for 1,011 of this total. The report is available at, and an analysis by Robert Townsend—with special reference to the history statistics—starts on page 3 of this issue.

Bruce Craig is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.

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