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The Expansion of Federal Power and the Politics of Implementing the No Child Left Behind Act


by Gail L. Sunderman & James S. Kim ó 2007

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) expanded the federal role in American education, and by doing so altered the distribution of power among the federal government, states, and local districts. When the law was enacted, it was unclear how this change in the distribution of power would play itself out. This study examines the developing set of relationships between federal, state, and local officials under the new law and the factors that have contributed to a growing conflict over implementation. To fully understand the implications of NCLB requires examining these interactions as well as understanding the substantive educational issues it raises. We identify three factors that contributed to the growing dissatisfaction with the law, namely, the Bush administrationís approach to federalism, the states' limited capacity to meet the new requirements, and the fiscal constraints facing state governments. We argue that these factors have contributed to the conflict with federal officials, eroded state commitment to the law, and complicated implementation efforts.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 5, 2007, p. 1057-1085
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12227, Date Accessed: 10/21/2017 11:55:03 AM

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About the Author
  • Gail Sunderman
    The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    GAIL SUNDERMAN is a Research Associate in K-12 Education for the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Her research focuses on educational policy and politics, and urban school reform, including the development and implementation of education policy and the impact of policy on the educational opportunities for at-risk students. At the Civil Rights Project, she is involved in a five-year study examining the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Her most recent publications include several reports on this Act, including a book co-authored by James S. Kim and Gary Orfield. Her work has appeared in Educational Policy, Administration Quarterly, and the Peabody Journal of Education.
  • James Kim
    University of California-Irvine
    E-mail Author
    JAMES S. KIM is an assistant professor of education policy and program evaluation at the University of California, Irvine. His research explores the effect of test-based accountability policies and compensatory education programs on the racial achievement gap. Most recently, he has conducted studies on the No Child Left Behind Acts' accountability requirements and the effectiveness of summer reading programs. His recent publications have appeared in the Harvard Educational Review and the Journal of Education for Students Placed At-Risk.
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