Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Afterword:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

Afterword: Trends in Education Policy

This historical essay is a resource for anyone who needs a simple, objective, chronological account of the events, issues, and participants in federal education policy since the mid-twentieth century. It highlights several important trends that have characterized these past six decades, as well as some apparently emerging trends:


  • Education policy and federalism. Traditionally in American history, education policy has been largely the province of the states, with the federal government providing some financial support for various purposes at various times. In recent years, however, the federal government has taken on increasing leadership in the national dialogue about education, asserting greater control over policy at the state and even local levels through legislation, regulations, and financial incentives.
  • Changing purposes of federal aid to education. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the primary goal of most federal aid to education was equity-attempting to redress the inequities in education that resulted from socioeconomic disadvantage, discrimination, and language background. In recent decades, however, the emphasis has shifted to closing achievement gaps by raising the effectiveness of education for all students.
  • Growing emphasis on standardized, measurable outcomes. During the second half of this period, policymakers have moved away from programs whose outcomes could not be evaluated for statewide, national, or international comparison. Rather, they have striven increasingly to employ standard measures to determine the effectiveness of education in general and specific programs in particular.
  • Growing networks and coalitions. Increasingly, coalitions of states-rather than individual states pursuing their own agendas-have led advocacy for change in federal education policy.


These trends relate closely to the three topics selected for initial emphasis in this project (economically disadvantaged students; standards, assessments, and accountability; and state advocacy). Developments in other topic areas will undoubtedly emerge as the project unfolds (for example, the possible impacts of changing immigration policy on bilingual education).

<< Previous...Next >>

The PDF version of this essay contains extensive footnotes that include numerous citations and supplementary text. For ease of reading, the footnotes are omitted from this version.