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The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed by the 89th United States Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1965. Part of Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” the act has been the most far-reaching federal legislation affecting education ever passed by the United States Congress.

Johnson proposed a major reform of federal education policy in the aftermath of his landslide victory in the 1964 United States presidential election, and his proposal quickly led to the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The act provides federal funding to primary and secondary education, with funds authorized for professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and parental involvement promotion. The act emphasizes equal access to education, aiming to shorten the achievement gaps between students by providing federal funding to support schools with children from impoverished families.


 Elementary and Secondary Education Act

One of Johnson’s programs, established by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, provided federal dollars for the education of poor children. Those billions of federal dollars, however, yielded no results.

By 1977, a study by the National Institute of Education of the effects of Title I found that any gains achieved during one school year had dissipated by the next, and that Title I students entered new grades as far behind as they would have been in the absence of Title I. The same has been consistently true of Head Start, the well-known preschool program; any gains made one year have vanished by the next.

Johnson’s domestic political initiatives are often referred to as the Great Society programs, so named for a memorable reference in a Johnson address. Among other things, Johnson sought to eradicate poverty, a condition he and his supporters believed could be eliminated with the right government programs. It was a staggering and enormously expensive failure. From 1950 until 1968, the poverty rate had steadily declined by about one percentage point per year. In the years since the Great Society programs, the poverty rate has stagnated. This is no coincidence. These programs were fundamentally wrongheaded and in some cases they made problems even worse. Seven trillion dollars later, LBJ’s programs have little to show for themselves other than as enormous drags on the American economy.

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