How has federalism impacted educational policies in recent decades?
The most important government-sponsored or imposed change to the nation's educational system was the product of protracted negotiations between Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush. Called the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001," it sought to establish nation-wide standards and goals that would be required of all schools receiving federal funding, in effect, the public school system. While the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is attributed to the Bush Administration, it was in fact the product of a cooperative negotiated process involving the White House, the Department of Education, Speaker of the House John Boehner, California Congressman Goerge Miller, and Senators Edward Kennedy and Judd Gregg. The composition of the core group working on the legislation that became the NCLB was comprised of senior level elected officials from both main political parties.
NCLB is not without its critics. Many elementary school teachers have taken issue with what they perceive to be the law's requirement that they "teach to the test." In other words, these teachers believe that the law limits their freedom to apply independent processes to their classrooms by requiring that all students meet identical standards -- standards that apply across the public school system.
The NCLB Act represents a major case of the federal government directly affecting the educational processes within individual states.
The Department of Education is the federal government's prinicipal agency for overseeing and supporting the public school system. Prior to 1980, it was part of a larger Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Congress passed a law that made Education an independent agency, and its status -- or level of political importance -- was elevated in 1981 when it became part of the presidential cabinet, a symbolically important step of an agency's importance to the Office of the Chief Executive.
Because the public school system is dependent upon federal funding, the federal government has leverage over how that system operates.