Biography of Jack Jennings

During his professional life, Jack Jennings has had three careers: as a key congressional expert, as the leader of a national think tank, and as an author. His formal name is John F. Jennings, but he prefers to be known by his nickname Jack.

Congressional Expert

For 27 years, Jack served as a key expert on education policy and politics for the Education and Labor Committee of the United States House of Representatives.

Over those years in various staff positions, Jack worked on

  • every re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,
  • the Vocational Education Act,
  • the School Lunch Act,
  • the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,
  • the Higher Education Act, and
  • various civil rights laws and other issues affecting education and social welfare.

His career began in 1967, when Jack was appointed the staff director and counsel for the subcommittee on elementary and secondary education. Congressman Roman C. Pucinski (Dem-Ill), the chairman of that subcommittee, made the appointment. At the time, Jack was a 24 year old newly minted lawyer from Chicago.

In 1973, the subcommittee chairmanship was assumed by Carl D. Perkins (Dem-Ky) who asked Jack to continue serving as staff director and counsel. In 1984, Gus Hawkins (Dem-Cal) assumed the chairmanship, and also asked Jack to continue to serve.

In 1990, William Ford (Dem-Mich) became the full committee chairman and asked Jack to serve as the general counsel for education for the full Education and Labor Committee. Jack continued with that responsibility until 1994 when he retired from his position with the Congress.

No other professional staff member has worked for the education committee for so long and for so many different chairmen. Going in order, these chairmen represented Chicago, a region of the Appalachian Mountains, the inner city of Los Angeles, and the suburbs of Detroit.

Think Tank Leader

In 1995, Jack founded and led for 17 years the Center on Education Policy. CEP, as it was known, was an independent research and advocacy organization, based in Washington, D.C., and was a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.

To ensure its objectivity, Jack limited funding to grants from charitable foundations. CEP would not accept funds from the government, unions, business organizations, or others.

Its purpose was to help with the improvement of public elementary and secondary education through analyzing state and national policies. When necessary, CEP proposed new policies.

An example of CEP’s work was the multi-year study of the No Child Left Behind Act. CEP’s analyses were a key part of the debate, cited by Presidents, members of Congress, and the news media.

In Education Week, CEP was recognized as one of the country’s ten most influential education organizations. The others included the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, advocacy groups, and the two teacher organizations. CEP was by far the smallest of the ten in terms of staff and budget.

Until early 2012, Jack headed CEP. When he retired that year, the Center became affiliated with the George Washington University.


As a third career, Jack has written four books, edited four more books, wrote a quarterly newsletter, and authored many articles for newspapers and magazines such as the Washington Post and the Kappan.

His books are:

  • Fatigued by School Reform (Rowman Littlefield, 2020)
  • Politics of American Education Reform: 50-Year Struggle in Search of Equity (Tokyo University Press, 2018). Published in Japanese.
  • Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools: The Politics of Education Reform (Harvard Education Press, 2015)
  • Why National Standards and Tests? Politics and the Quest for Better Schools (Sage Publications, 1998)

Books which he edited are in a series called National Issues in Education. The four books which compose that collection are:

  • The Past is Prologue (Phi Delta Kappa and the Institute for Educational Leadership, 1993)
  • Community Service and Student Loans (PDK and IEL,1994)
  • Goals 2000 and School to Work (PDK and IEL,1995)
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (PDK and IEL,1995)

Professional Qualifications

AB History, Loyola University Chicago

J.D. Northwestern University School of Law

Member, Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Past member of the legal bars of Illinois, the District of Columbia, and the Federal 7th Circuit.

Various Activities

Jack has spoken at hundreds of occasions, made podcasts, participated in dozens of TV and radio interviews, and used other forms of communication. He also has been on the boards of different organizations, such as the Educational Testing Service and the Phi Delta Kappa Foundation (serving as chairman). Jack was a member of many groups, and retains his membership in the National Academy of Education and Phi Delta Kappa. Jack has received dozens of awards and certificates from education organizations.

Written on July 20, 2020

Curriculum Vitae of Jack Jennings

Narrative Biography: The New York State Archives maintains a trove of information on the relationship between the federal and the state governments on their dealings in education. In 2013-14, Jack Jennings was one of the advisors to that project. This is the biography the Archives used for that project. Download here.