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The Allure of OrderHigh Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling$
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Jal Mehta

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199942060

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199942060.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 05 March 2021

The Transformation of Federal Policy: Ideas and the Triumph of Accountability Politics

The Transformation of Federal Policy: Ideas and the Triumph of Accountability Politics

Chapter:
8 The Transformation of Federal Policy: Ideas and the Triumph of Accountability Politics
Source:
The Allure of Order
Author(s):

Jal Mehta

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199942060.003.0010

Even with the movement of the states toward standards-based reform, there was no reason to think a similar movement would, or even could, take place at the federal level. The defining characteristic of American education was its decentralization: the Republican Party habitually called for the elimination of the Department of Education, and the Democratic Party confined the federal role to providing aid to disadvantaged students. But over the course of fewer than 20 years, all of this was transformed, culminating in the most far-reaching federal education law in the nation’s history, passed under a Republican president no less. What explains this transformation? Three sets of changes need to be explained: how political actors were realigned, how policies were chosen, and how institutions changed. To begin with the political: How did the Republican Party, which had long been philosophically opposed to a federal role in education and had called for the abolition of the Department of Education as recently as 1996 come to support the biggest nationalization of education in the nation’s history? Why did Congressional Democrats, who in 1991 had strongly opposed a proposal by George H. W. Bush for national standards and testing as unfair to minority students, shift by 2001 to embrace a similar proposal offered by another Republican President, George W. Bush? In short, how did an overwhelming bipartisan political consensus form in favor of policies that had been opposed by large majorities in both parties only 10 years earlier? A second set of questions relates to policy choices. Of all the available policy tools, what explains the choice of standards-based reform as the primary federal response to this perceived crisis? The bipartisan embrace of tough accountability in No Child Left Behind seems particularly hard to account for by conventional interest group explanations, given that teachers unions are consistently rated the strongest players in educational politics and have historically been opposed to greater demands for school or teacher accountability. Why were standards and accountability the chosen policy vehicle, and why did they triumph over interest group opposition?

Keywords:   Education Leaders Council, FAIRTEST, National Alliance of Business, New Standards Project, Pew Forum on School Reform, Project Basic, Student Results Act, capacity building, criterion-referenced tests, gap analysis, high-stakes tests, incentives, legislation, median voter theorem, performance-based assessment, poverty

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