Big Debates About Federal Education Policy in Journals, 1982-2005

Big debates about federal education policy do not happen only on Capitol Hill. Academics and wonks have had some major conversations over the decades. Starting in the early 1980s, debates over disappointing educational achievement and what if anything the federal government could do (beyond providing still more resources) erupted. Below are four journals that had symposia on this meaty question. Authors included the heavies of the day, like Carl Kaestle, Diane Ravitch, Michael Kirst, and more. By no means is this list comprehensive—these just happen to be volumes that I came across during my research and that struck me as particularly smart and influential.

Harvard Educational Review, Rehinking the Federal Role in Education, November 1982

American Journal of Education, Educational Reform through National Standards and Assessment, August 1994

Teachers College Record, Education Policy in the Clinton Administration (symposium), Spring 1995

Peabody Journal of Education, Federalism Reconsidered: The Case of the No Child Left Behind Act, 2005

A memo questioning the wisdom of creating a U.S. Department of Education

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is nonpartisan thinktank with the Library of Congress. It supports our national legislature in many important ways. At bottom, CRS provides a representative assembly comprised of diverse amateurs with something rare: trustworthy information and expertise.

One important but little known service CRS provides is critical feedback to legislators who request it. This can be delivered via a phonecall, in-person meeting, or written format. During my time at CRS, I frequently was asked to critique ideas for legislation and draft proposals. One particularly smart legislator sent me a white paper and asked me to “tear it apart.” Which I did in a lengthy memo that I wrote.

Continue reading “A memo questioning the wisdom of creating a U.S. Department of Education”

The Controversial and Condemned National Education Standards for History (1994)

The 1980s and 1990s saw a bipartisan push for national education standards. Unfortunately, when the history standards were released in 1994, a political firestorm erupted and the Senate voted to condemn the standards for being too politically correct. (For more on this story, see my book, Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards (2006) and Diane Ravitch’s National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (1996).

Copies of the standards, which were created by Charlotte Crabtree and Gary B. Nash, can be downloaded at and

Promising Results, Continuing Challenges: The Final Report of the National Assessment of Title I (1999)

This was an important report, as its findings about the Title I (formerly Chapter 1) program fed into the congressional discussions to rework the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 into the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

You can download a copy at

Digest of Education Statistics

Per the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “The primary purpose of the Digest of Education Statistics is to provide a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of American education from prekindergarten through graduate school.”

You can download this particular volume at Copies of volumes from the early 1980s through recent years can be found at NCES offers copies (1995-present) online at

The annual Digest of Education Statistics and the annual Condition of Education (copies here) are go-to volumes for anyone studying the state of American schooling.