Federalism Revised: The Promise and Challenge of the No Child Left Behind Act


Kenneth K. Wong chairs the Education Department at Brown University, where he holds the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair in Education Policy and directs the graduate program in urban education policy. He is the recipient of the 2007 Deil Wright Best Paper Award given by the American Political Science Association. His recent publications include The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools (Georgetown University Press, 2007) and Successful Schools and Educational Accountability (Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2007).
E-mail: kenneth_wong@brown.edu


Federalism in education has undergone significant changes since the Winter Commission. During the early 1990s, federal policy makers faced the challenge of organizational fragmentation and policy incoherence in public education. In the last 15 years, the intergovernmental system has evolved from one that is predominantly compliance-driven to one that is performance based, as suggested by the congressional adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. While the former is often characterized by images of “picket fence” federalism and administrative silos, the latter remains very much a work in progress, with the promise of raising academic proficiency. This paper first examines the paradigm shift and then considers emerging politics in intergovernmental relations. The author explores the ways in which state and local policy makers are altering the rules governing education service provision in response to performance-based federal expectations.