Samuel Halperin, education policy leader, dies at 83


Samuel Halperin in an undated photo. (Family Photo)
May 9

Samuel Halperin, who helped shape laws dramatically expanding access to public education during the 1960s and remained involved in national education policy for more than four decades, died May 6 at his home in Washington. He was 83.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his daughter, Deena Barlev.

A former political scientist, Dr. Halperin joined the old U.S. Office of Education in 1961 and became a top liaison with Congress on education bills. Within a few years, he was named deputy assistant secretary for legislation in the old U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

He was credited as an architect of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to provide comprehensive federal aid to public schools. The act included the Title I provision, which has provided billions of federal dollars to help educate poor children.

Dr. Halperin also helped shepherd the 1965 Higher Education Act, which helped give college students access to many new resources for financial aid.

In the 1970s and early ’80s, Dr. Halperin led George Washington University’s Institute for Educational Leadership, which had professional development and fellowship programs operating in more than 35 states.

From 1986-93, he was study director of the William T. Grant Foundation’s Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship. He co-wrote the commission’s much-cited 1988 report, “The Forgotten Half,” which examined how national prosperity might be threatened by the 20 million people aged 16 to 24 who will never go to college.

The report came out at a time when much of the attention in education policy circles was placed on those going to college. Less energy was expended on providing new skills and opportunities for what Dr. Halperin said were the 70 percent of adults who never earn a college degree.

“The problem is the jobs they get after graduating high school are the same jobs they had while in high school,” Dr. Halperin said in 1992, citing such positions as retail clerk, fast-food server and stock boy. “Our economy uses vast amounts of these folks, and the purchasing power of these jobs is declining.”

In 1993, he founded and served as senior fellow at the nonprofit American Youth Policy Forum in Washington. The organization released a report a few years later, “The Forgotten Half Revisited,” which showed that despite a strong economy, young people lacking college diplomas were falling into poverty at a fast rate.

Dr. Halperin edited the new study, which called for more collaboration among local governments, schools and community-based and faith-based organizations to help promote education and workforce preparation.

Samuel Halperin was born May 10, 1930, in Chicago. He was a 1952 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where he also received a doctorate in political science in 1956.

He taught political science at Wayne State University in Detroit before winning a congressional fellowship from the American Political Science Association and joining the U.S. Office of Education as a legislative specialist.

He wrote dozens of scholarly articles and sat on national advisory boards and review panels centered on educational research. His honors included HEW superior and distinguished service awards and the distinguished service award of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, an umbrella group of youth development programs now called the Corps Network.

Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Marlene Epstein Halperin of Washington; two children, Elan Halperin of Rockville and Deena Barlev of Silver Spring; and five grandchildren.

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