The educational aspirations Americans hold for their children have never been higher than they are today. The demand for education is contagious and readily transferred from generation to generation. Parents want more and better schooling for their children than they had ever had. The need for unskilled and uneducated labor has almost vanished, and the need for highly educated labor continues to be in great demand. However education has its expenses and not everyone is able to financially afford to be better educated. The federal government has put its best foot forward to help with citizens who need extra money for their education. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, National Defense Education Act (NDEA), and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) many Americans have been able to reach higher education.

The "G.I. Bill of Rights" is a body of federal legislation which has provided educational and other benefits for veterans of World War II. Over 11 million persons have availed themselves of these benefits. A general aim for this legislation has been to compensate veterans for their sacrifices and services. Another important reason, however, has been the necessity (particularly in the 1940's) of reintegrating the numbers of returning servicemen into the civilian economy and into the national life. No review could possibly describe the massive impact of the World War II G.I. Bill on the nation or the individual lives of veterans who were aided through this program and have since graduated with careers as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants, mechanics, clergymen, and farmers. Many historians have rated the G.I. Bill of Rights one of the most enlightened pieces of legislation ever enacted by the Congress of the United States. Some describe it as one of the most successful experiments in socioeconomic expansion undertaken by the U.S. government. Certainly, as long as U.S. citizens continue to be drafted for military service, this kind of legislation will remain high on the legislative priority list.

In 1958 Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) which appropriated federal funds to improve instruction in those areas considered crucial to national defense and security. The areas that were considered were mathematics, foreign language and science. Between 1945 and 1958, there was intense debate about federal aid to elementary and secondary schools. Special interests and political dynamics blocked the enactment of federal aid legislation. However, in 1957 the political situation changed when the Soviet Union, the rival of the United States in the Cold War successfully orbited Sputnik, a space satellite. The Soviet space success and well-publicized American space failures induced a climate of national crisis. Critics pointed to the deficiencies of American students in mathematics and science. The Sputnik crisis sparked national legislation to support training, equipment, and programs in fields vital to defense. The scientific community including university scholars and curriculum specialists are often called upon to reconstruct subject-matter content, especially on the high school level.

Another program that increased federal financial involvement still further was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Whereas the NDEA emphasized science and mathematics, the ESEA was a federal response to the significant social change taking place in American society. Many African American students as well as members of other minority groups, especially in inner- city areas, were educationally disadvantaged because of social and economic conditions. The ESEA related to President Lyndon Johnson's program,"War on Poverty," which encouraged special programs for children of low-income families. It also created a range of early childhood educational programs for economically and culturally disadvantaged children. These programs had an impact on early childhood education not only for minority children but for all children. When the ESEA was passed it immediately provided $1 billion to supplement and improve the education of economically disadvantaged children. In 1981, Title I of ESEA was revised and is now named Chapter 1 of the Educational Consolidation and Improvement Act (ECIA). In 1992 Chapter 1 funding was nearly $7 billion. Research indicates that Chapter 1 programs still do not ensure students will acquire the academic and intellectual skills necessary for obtaining good jobs in a modern economy, however, Chapter 1 students typically gain a year in reading and math achievement for each year of participation in elementary grades, and thus no longer fall further behind their advantaged peers. Various problems do persist and many disadvantaged students receive only one or two years of compensatory services and then tend to decline in relative achievement. Participants who start out far behind national achievement averages usually remain there, and many of the Chapter 1 programs conducted nationally are poorly implemented and ineffective.

Prepared by Christen Baylis-Heerschop