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Federal Government’s Relationship with Schools

Chapters 9-12 in Kirst & Wirt’s book “The Political Dynamics of American Education”

PROMPT: The federal government has had an ever increasing role in public education over the past 50 years. Why do you think this is the case? What is the correct balance of power between our state and the federal government in determining educational policy?

The education of our citizens is not expressly determined by the constitution therefore the responsibility falls to the state. In 1983, Ronald Reagan’s “A Nation At Risk” report came out and shocked the citizens, which then allowed politicians to make education part of their political forum. The problem is that for politicians ” education could be merely a symbolic issue that does not change many votes”  (Kirst & Wirt, p. 298). Since it is a symbolic issue it many not be an important issue for these same politicians to fight for. Education has become a federal issue because of the need to have political issues to agree or disagree with.

The main issue with the federal policy develops from the funds being tied to the initiatives. States who don’t rely heavily on federal funding do not have to worry about the federal initiatives, but others who rely heavily on the federal funds are stuck navigating around the federal policies. These policies are usually not a one bandaid fixes all problems which is why states still need to be very involved in the regulation of school policy.

Part of the problem with the state having complete control is that “the local-control advocates – such as teachers’ unions, school boards, and school administrator associations – feud among themselves and thereby provide a vacuum that state control activists can exploit.” (Kirst & Wirt, p. 231)  Within a state, school districts face a variety of issues and needs. The local agencies need to keep some control with some guidance from the federal government.

The balance must be attained between state and federal control for many reasons. First, we are now a very mobile society. Many students and teachers travel to live in multiple states in their lifetime. When Biology is taught in 10th grade in Colorado but they move to a state that it is taught in 12th grade, students lose out on the flow of information. They have to take classes with students they don’t know. They may need to know other information before their new curriculum.  For this reason, the national standards can be a very influential and beneficial move. National curriculum on the other hand is not necessary and could be detrimental to learning. If a school is located near resources, such as a volcano or historical site, that can teach them directly and authentically, why should all students have to have the same curriculum. We live in a diverse country where that diversity should be celebrated and utilized.

As the text discusses throughout these chapters, the four values that both the state and federal government look for are quality, efficiency, equity and choice. The state would have the greatest information on how to utilize their infrastructure to prepare their own students for the future. The federal government should set the standards for what needs to be taught and create resources and provide financial support so that states can accomplish the education of those standards.

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