Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities

The release of this informative and lively book by William & Mary
political scientist Paul Manna is exquisitely timed for what many
expect to be ESEA reauthorization (finally!) by the 112th Congress,
which after Tuesday’s election, may be more open to Manna's counsel than
its predecessor. In its pages, he draws from eight years of study on
NCLB implementation and does a first-rate job of depicting its
consequences—both positive and negative—and drawing insightful
conclusions for the future federal role in K-12 education. He ends with
scant faith that the traditional ESEA approach—brought to what may well
have been its apogee in NCLB—can yield good results. “Crafting a new
role that better recognizes the constraints limiting federal power in
education” might, however, “enable federal policy to make valuable
contributions.” “With such an acknowledgment,” he writes, “the vast
majority of influence over the nation's schools would still reside in
state and local governments. No doubt, that would prove frustrating to
reformers who wish to see Washington play a more aggressive
role....Still, if educational results...are most important, then it
should not matter if federal leaders or their colleagues at other levels
of government wield the most power. The point would be to engineer
federal advocacy, funding, incentives, and information to help state
and local governments improve opportunities and results for the nation's
students.” Sage advice, that.

Paul Manna, “Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities,” (Washington, D.C.: SAGE, 2011).

Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute