Sputnik and education
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the US has a long history of federal involvement in education. They trace it all the way back to 1965 and some of the "Great Society" legislation of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
NCLB culminates more than four decades of federal expansion into public education, beginning largely with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. As part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty," ESEA appropriated approximately $2 billion in its initial year to help states improve educational opportunities for the underclass...
The beginning of federal involvement in education, however, goes back just a few years more. Its first major intrusion was cloaked as a defense initiative to maintain some semblance of constitutionality. The launching of Sputnik was the first major impetus.
The "National Defense Student Loan Fund"--contrived in response to the launching of Sputnik--was a system of subsidized loans to students. The federal taxpayer would supply 90 percent and colleges 10 percent. The colleges would be responsible for collections and would be at risk for its 10 percent. The title of the law is, of course, an attempt to find justification for it under the defense power given to Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. (Today we have the "National Direct Student Loan Program." We become progressively less squeamish about constitutional justification.) (Liberty and Learning, The Evolution of American Education, by Larry P. Arnn, p. 43)
The goal was purportedly to ensure that promising applicants would not be barred access to higher education based solely on financial considerations. Within a few years, however, this aid became a source of power for the federal government as it sought to increasingly control colleges and universities which accepted this funding. Any institution accepting students with federal aid was reclassified as a recipient of federal funds and thus subject to any policies, present and future. We can see today how much meaning that may have for our institutions of higher learning as we look at the recommendations of Secretary Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

You can also deduce, perhaps, why math and science in particular seem to attract so much attention.

I think some of this funding and the control exercised thus far are at the root of the problem and increasing this funding and control will only hasten the decline. We were better off before federal involvement.

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