The federal government plays a smaller role in K-12 education — in terms of both funding and decisionmaking — than states or local districts, as a result of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes that powers not specifically given the federal government are the responsibility of the states or the people. According to Terry Astuto and David Clark in the Encyclopedia of Educational Research, education has remained the domain of state and local governments throughout the history of the United States for a few reasons, namely:
However, the federal government's role in education policymaking has, by stages, grown in the last 50 years. This has, say Astuto and Clark, come about as a result of interpretation of portions of the Constitution, such as the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and the separation of church and state, that call for federal influence in schools; an increase in Supreme Court rulings on education; and circumstances in national history (for example, the elimination of discrimination and the Cold War-fueled interest in math and science education).
- The Founding Fathers did not trust centralized government.
- A tradition of local control of schools has been established.
- Persons elected to the executive and legislative offices have not succeeded in reversing the passive federal role in education established in the Constitution.
Following are descriptions of the most well-known and influential federal education programs.
For further information about the 2001 reauthorization of ESEA, please visit the NCLB Issue page. For further information on state compliance with IDEA, please visit the Special Education Issue Page.
- The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, (ESEA) was most recently reauthorized in December 2001. First enacted in 1965 as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, its initial emphasis on initiatives to assist poor students (known today as Title I) has expanded to include a wide variety of programs such as bilingual education, violence prevention, safe and drug-free schools, and Even Start. The 2001 reauthorization adds mandates regarding assessment and accountability, teacher quality, and reading/literacy.
- Another piece of significant federal legislation, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), began as an amendment to ESEA in 1966, and was later separated and enacted in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. It requires all states to enact and implement legislation providing disabled children with a "free appropriate public education" in order to receive federal funds for provision of special education services.
- Title IX (1972) prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating in academics or sports on the basis of gender. This legislation pertains to both K-12 and postsecondary schools.
- The U.S. Department of Education and the office of Secretary of Education were established by the Carter administration in 1978. The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), the research and development arm of the department, examines educational programs, sponsors demonstration projects and provides technical assistance to the states in implementation of education initiatives through 10 regional labs. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), created by Congressional mandate and housed within the OERI, is mandated to compile and disseminate statistics about education in the United States, as well as to conduct and publish research on educational programs internationally. Among the most well-known of the NCES initiatives is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation's report card, which in 1969 began to sponsor nationwide, voluntary assessments of both public and nonpublic students in the core subjects in grades 4, 8, and 12.
The 10 regional labs housed organizationally within the OERI were initially created in the 1965 ESEA. Based in geographical areas across the country, each lab has its own area of focus in terms of research and technical support in such fields as educational leadership, technology, standards, and assessment. National Research and Development Centers, likewise an arm of the OERI, are located on 12 university campuses and conduct research on separate topics of interest in the educational community, including early learning, assessment, reading, schooling of at-risk students, and public policy.
Sources: "Federal Role, Legislative and Executive," Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Sixth Edition, Vol. 2, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992; Signetwork Web Site; OERI Web Site; NCES Web Site; NAEP Web Site.