In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Federal Government Programs and Issues

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Periodicals
  • Data Sources
  • Major Statutes and Programs
  • Landmark US Supreme Court Cases
  • Prekindergarten Education
  • Higher Education
  • Students with Disabilities
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • National Priorities

Education Federal Government Programs and Issues
Paul Manna
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0049


Since the founding of the United States, subnational levels of government have shouldered the vast majority of responsibility for educating the nation’s children. Although the federal government provides mere pennies on the dollar to support the nation’s schools—in any given year approximately 90 percent of school funding is from state and local governments—federal education policy is wide-ranging and often consequential. Due to the relatively small federal footprint in this policy area, the success of federal programs depends heavily on the capacities and implementation decisions of state and local governments. Historically and up to the 21st century, federal efforts have touched on preschool, elementary, and secondary education, and higher education in the nation’s colleges and universities, while addressing a range of substantive issues at these levels.

General Overviews

The governance of American education is fragmented and diverse. Understanding the federal role requires examining the many actors and institutions that interact with federal policy as it is developed and implemented by officials at federal, state, and local levels. These works help to place the federal role in this larger institutional and political context. Wirt and Kirst 2009 provides a classic textbook treatment of the subject. Anderson 2007, Kaestle and Lodewick 2007, and Cross 2004 examine broad changes, with the latter having participated as a policy maker in several of the debates that the author analyzes. Radin and Hawley 1988 considers an important institutional development, the creation of the US Department of Education. Henig 2009 offers a political scientist’s perspective on recent changes in educational leadership, comparing presidents to other elected executives (governors and mayors) in the American intergovernmental system. Finally, Ravitch 2000 and the Center on Education Policy 2009 examine trends in the performance of federal policy across a range of areas.

  • Anderson, Lee. 2007. Congress and the classroom: From the Cold War to “No Child Left Behind.” University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

    Historical treatment of federal policy developments focusing on the last half of the 20th century.

  • Center on Education Policy. 2009. Rethinking the federal role in elementary and secondary education. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.

    A collection of papers from scholars and policy practitioners designed to inspire debate and discussion about future federal efforts in areas including standards, testing, technology, and teacher policy. Contains comparisons between the United States and other nations.

  • Cross, Christopher T. 2004. Political education: National policy comes of age. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Analysis of historical developments in federal education policy from a former public official who worked in Congress, the federal executive branch, and state government.

  • Henig, Jeffrey R. 2009. Mayors, governors, and presidents: The new education executives and the rise of educational exceptionalism. Peabody Journal of Education 84.3: 283–299.

    DOI: 10.1080/01619560902973449

    Considers presidential leadership in education as characteristic of a more general phenomenon that has seen presidents, governors, and mayors assert more aggressive leadership and interest in American schools.

  • Kaestle, Carl F., and Alyssa E. Lodewick, eds. 2007. To educate a nation: Federal and national strategies of school reform. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

    Edited collection of papers analyzing the federal influence on school reform, intergovernmental relations, equal educational opportunity, and the balance between the public and private sectors in education.

  • Radin, Beryl A., and Willis D. Hawley. 1988. The politics of federal reorganization: Creating the U.S. Department of Education. New York: Pergamon.

    Analysis of the creation of the US Department of Education during President Jimmy Carter’s administration from the perspective of public administration scholars who also have worked in the federal government.

  • Ravitch, Diane, ed. 2000. Brookings papers on education policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

    Examines major components of the federal role in elementary and secondary education at the close of the 20th century. Chapters authored by leading scholars and researchers in the field.

  • Wirt, Frederick M., and Michael W. Kirst. 2009. The political dynamics of American education. 4th ed. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

    Assesses federal education policy and politics in the context of the American intergovernmental system, which reserves most authority over education to state and local governments. Considered one of the classic textbook treatments of the subject.

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