Why bother studying the federal politics of education? Today, the question seems a little obtuse, what with the recent outpouring of studies on the topic. But when Gerald Sroufe posed the question in 1994, it was not in jest. The federal government supplied six to eight percent of school funding; it neither operated public schools (with rare exception) nor had it a significant a role in choosing what was taught in them. So, was the politics of education really worthy of scholars’ time?
Sroufe answers this question emphatically in the affirmative. His first argument holds that the study of federal education politics furthers the conceptual analysis of politics. Studying how education politics operates was a means for testing more general propositions about political behavior. Sroufe’s best answer, however, was “because it is there.” The enactment of Goals 2000, for example, received nationwide media coverage. Federal action in schooling had become, Sroufe wrote, “too large and noisy to ignore.” This is all the more true today. The federal government provides ever greater contextual effects on the development of state educational systems. In short, you cannot really understand state and local educational policies without reference to the federal role.
Sroufe’s article also goes on to provide some useful tips on how to approach the study of federal education politics. It is a very useful piece, especially to those new to this field of study.
Sroufe’s article is not freely available online. You may peek at parts of it via Google Books. The full article can be found in the Politics of Education’s Annual Yearbook 1994: Gerald E. Sroufe, “Politics of education at the Federal Level,” in Jay D. Scribner and Donald H. Layton, Politics of Education at the Federal Level (The Falmer Press, 1995), pp. 75-88. Copies of this bound volume are for sale online here, and also may be borrowed from various research libraries.