Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Michael Heise's forthcoming article in Columbia Law Review, From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism, is available on SSRN. He offers this abstract:
When passed in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act represented the federal government’s most dramatic foray into the elementary and secondary public school policymaking terrain. While critics emphasized the Act’s overreliance on standardized testing and its reduced school-district and state autonomy, proponents lauded the Act’s goal to close the achievement gap between middle- and upper-middle-class students and students historically ill served by their schools. Whatever structural changes the No Child Left Behind Act achieved, however, were largely undone in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which repositioned significant federal education policy control in state governments. From a federalism standpoint, the Every Student Succeeds Act may have reset education federalism boundaries to favor states, far exceeding their position prior to 2001.
While federal elementary and secondary education reform efforts since 2001 may intrigue legal scholars, a focus on educational federalism risks obscuring an even more fundamental development in educational policymaking power: its migration from governments to families, from regulation to markets. Amid a multidecade squabble between federal and state lawmakers over education policy authority, efforts to harness individual autonomy and market forces in the service of increasing children’s educational opportunity and equity have grown. Persistent demands for and increased availability of school voucher programs, charter schools, tax credits programs, and home schooling demonstrate families’ desire for greater agency over decisions about their children’s education. Parents’ calls for greater control over critical decisions concerning their children’s education and schooling options may eclipse state and federal lawmakers’ legislative squabbles over educational federalism.
Michael and I agree on a lot in this article. The title of my article, Abandoning the Federal Role in Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act, largely speaks for itself. That article traces the federal role in education from the 1960s until today, arguing that the Every Student Succeeds Act entirely reverses the expansion of the federal role in education, which had been building for decades.
Heise's article, however, goes beyond mine in certain respects, focusing on a factor absent from my analysis: the role of individual autonomy. In other words, from Heise's perspective, it is not just a fight between the feds and the states. It is a fight over family decisionmaking as well. Thus, the return of power to states is not just to serve the interests of state, but that of families.
Interestingly, more recent events add new wrinkles that may require updating of both Heise and my thoughts. Recent surveys and reports indicate that some family autonomy policies are unpopular, at least to the majority. The shift is abrupt in some instances. A new survey shows that charter support has plummeted by 12 percent in the last year. Other reports indicate strong opposition to the current administration's push for more vouchers and charters.
Disaggregating these shifts is difficult. It could be that the public dislikes the messenger but not necessarily the message. Or it may be that the public supports the expansion of choice, but not when it is perceived as being at the expense of traditional public education. The latter, however, presents an implementation challenge. To what extent can private choice expand without harming public education? Minimal to moderate expansions may pose little risk, but a tipping point likely exists, as I detail in a forthcoming article titled, Preferencing Private Choice.