Panel Paper: Does Decentralization Lead to Greater Educational Inequity? the Every Student Succeeds Act

Monday, June 13, 2016 : 2:55 PM
Clement House, 5th Floor, Room 02 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Bonnie C. Fusarelli, Lance D. Fusarelli and Anna Jacob Egalite, North Carolina State University
In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was a long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The new federal legislation replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was itself the previous reauthorization of ESEA. For several years, No Child Left Behind had been sharply criticized by both liberals and conservatives, albeit for very different reasons, for damaging the U.S. educational system. Criticisms include: (1) excessive use of executive power at the national level and inappropriate federal intrusion into local education, leading to loss of local control; (2) overemphasis on annual standardized testing and high stakes accountability; (3) narrowing the curriculum; (4) opposition to Common Core; (5) inappropriate measures of school performance and federal sanctions; and (6) tying teacher evaluation to student performance, among others. In many respects, NCLB was a culmination of years of increased federal activism and control over education. In a flat world characterized by increased international competition, these efforts by U.S. policymakers may be viewed as an effort to more tightly couple an educational system that by its unique “federal” construction has for nearly 200 years been loosely coupled and decentralized. The gradual process of more tightly coupling the U.S. educational system can be seen through a succession of presidents, beginning with the passage of ESEA under President Johnson, picking up steam under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and accelerating greatly under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. While NCLB has been criticized by the Obama Administration, many of the waivers (taking the form of funded mandates) granted by the administration have further increased federal control, including strong support for the Common Core and requirements for tying student performance into teacher evaluation systems. What is remarkable about ESSA is that it explicitly reverses the decades-long federal effort to more tightly couple the U.S. educational system. While not removing testing requirements, the legislation dramatically reduces the federal role in shaping education policy, returning power to the states to design educational systems as they best see fit. The law places sharp limits on the use of executive power over education and has the potential to remove the federal government from oversight and accountability. Utilizing public documents, including legislation, speeches by federal officials, analyses by policy organizations, and news accounts, the authors trace the evolution of federal efforts to more tightly couple the educational system and examine the theory of action behind those efforts. The authors then analyze key components of ESSA and compare these, along with newly stated theories of action, to previous federal initiatives. Since federal education policy is often framed within the context of improving educational opportunities and promoting greater equity, the key policy question is whether the effort to decentralize governance back to the state and local levels will improve education and further reduce inequity or whether, in fact, the reduced federal role will exacerbate inequity. The study concludes by discussing the implications for educational governance, leadership, and management.

Full Paper: