Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA)

Background of the Legislation

By the middle of the 1960s, many American school districts that had been racially segregated were now being desegregated. Equality in voting and other civil rights was being attained by African-Americans a hundred years after Emancipation. It was obvious, though, that a wide chasm separated the races economically. President Lyndon Johnson had been elected in a landslide in 1964 and he felt the political conditions were right to push for Congressional action on an agenda of social reform, called The Great Society. A central program in that agenda was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965.

Purpose of the Legislation

The overall purpose of ESEA was to improve educational opportunities for poor children. This was not meant as a general package of aid to all schools; the allocation formulas directed assistance to the local education agencies (LEAs) with the greatest proportions of poor children. The funds were purposely distributed through state education agencies (SEAs) to avoid the perception that the federal government was intervening in the rights and obligations of states to provide public education and also to use the funds as leverage to upgrade the capabilities of SEAs themselves.

Provisions Relevant to the Audiovisual Field

  Overall educational programs. Title I authorized grants to schools that proposed
to improve their educational programs for poor children in specific ways. In many cases school districts developed plans to expand and improve the teaching of reading and other subjects in which poor students needed remedial help. This often involved the acquisition of audiovisual hardware and software and the upgrading of district and regional media centers. In Orange County, Florida, for example, the total Title I allocation was about $1 million. Of this, about half was expended for:
  the purchase of a variety of films, filmstrips, tape and disc recordings, transparencies, supplemental reading and textual materials, audiovisual equipment, and specialized production equipment….[and for] additional leased warehouse and office space, concomitant with personnel to staff this expansion of facilities and services and to provide additional in-service training capabilities at the media center and at the school level.¹  
 
Library Resources.
Title II provided funds ($100 million the first year) for
upgrading school library resources, including the purchase of textbooks, programmed instruction materials, periodicals, other printed materials, and audiovisual materials. As with Title I, the funds were filtered through SEAs.

As it happened, DAVI played in indirect role in increasing the proportion of funds eventually directed toward audiovisual materials. First, in many states Title II funds were allocated to LEAs on the basis of what they needed to bring their libraries up to the standards set out in Standards for School Library Programs, the standards developed jointly by DAVI and the American Library Association. Thanks to the input from DAVI, schools had quantitative standards for audiovisual materials that they could use to justify expenditures. Second, at the 1965 DAVI convention in Milwaukee a NAVA-produced filmstrip, “ESEA of 1965,” was presented. It explained how Title II and other provisions of the law could be interpreted to support audiovisual media. It was later shown to audiences all over the country. The filmstrip became famous as an advocacy instrument for the AV movement.
  Innovative Initiatives. Title III provided funds ($75 million in the first year) for

“innovative and exemplary programs.” The purpose was to develop innovative solutions to educational problems, and to demonstrate those solutions so that they could be disseminated to other schools.

Many DAVI members assumed leadership in their school districts to develop proposals for innovation that featured media. Some examples:

  • a mobile audiovisual center to demonstrate a well-equipped and staffed school media center operation
  • an environmental learning project that expanded a conventional school library into a media center with electronic carrels
  • an in-service training center that provided facilities for previewing and producing new AV materials as well as equipment for practicing the use of new media equipment

Impact of ESEA

The combined impact of Titles I, II, and III on the audiovisual field was tremendous. One indicator of impact is the sheer number of dollars spent by public schools on audiovisual media, as shown in Figure 1.

Overall, school spending on audiovisual media in 1965-66, the first year of ESEA’s implementation, was over 50% larger than the prior year and almost twice that of 1962-63. Overhead projectors and 16mm film sales and rentals showed the highest rate of increase between 1965 and 1966.

About 20% of school spending on media was devoted to salaries of audiovisual personnel. It’s interesting to note that spending on salaries rose 41% over the four-year period but the percentage of schools having audiovisual specialist on the payroll did not increase over this period. The increased spending therefore reflects higher spending within the school districts that had already been employing audiovisual specialists.

The impact on DAVI was both direct and indirect. More money available for hardware and software meant that delegates arrived at the annual convention eager to spend money with exhibitors. This encouraged more exhibitors to come with bigger exhibits. Between 1965 and 1971 each year set a new all-time record for exhibitors at the convention. Since exhibit income covered a large proportion of the annual expenses, the association was able to undertake a more ambitious program.

The creation of larger audiovisual enterprises at the local, district, and regional levels created more jobs, and therefore more potential members of DAVI. The expansion of the membership pool was also aided greatly by the “special media institutes” funded by the amended NDEA, which was part of the overall ESEA legislative package. Indeed, membership, like school AV spending, more than doubled during this period. The five years after ESEA saw the largest growth in membership in DAVI’s history, reaching an all-time high of over 11,000 members in 1970.

In short, the federal education initiatives of 1965 were the catalyst for the greatest expansion in the history of DAVI, taking the association to heights that would not be equaled in later years.

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1. Allison, George E. ESEA: Title I at work in Orange County, Florida. Audiovisual Instruction, December 1966, p. 786.


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