A New Model for States as Laboratories for Reform: How Federalism Informs Education Policy

Shannon K. McGovern

In the decade since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, American education
policy has been federalized and politicized to an unprecedented degree.
Widespread substantive and ideological criticism of the Act has left the future of the
legislation—and of federal education policy itself—in doubt. The Obama
Administration has called for an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, which has
engendered criticism as an unfunded federal mandate on the states. But the
Administration’s implementation of Race to the Top, a controversial education
reform competition among the states, has exacerbated concern about federal
encroachment upon state policy making autonomy.
In this Note, I explore both the troubling federalism implications of recent federal
education initiatives and the equally compelling policy considerations demanding
continued federal leadership. I conclude that globalization and entrenched interstate
inequality, among other forces, necessitate a continued, albeit more prudent,
role for the federal government in reforming K–12 education.

This article appears in the November 2011 Issue: Volume 86, Number 5