From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism

39 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2018 Last revised: 15 Feb 2018

Date Written: January 26, 2018


When passed in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act represented the federal government’s most dramatic foray into the elementary and secondary public school policymaking terrain. While critics emphasized the Act’s overreliance on standardized testing and its reduced schooldistrict and state autonomy, proponents lauded the Act’s goal to close the achievement gap between middle- and upper-middle-class students and students historically ill served by their schools. Whatever structural changes the No Child Left Behind Act achieved, however, were largely undone in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which repositioned significant federal education policy control in state governments. From a federalism standpoint, the Every Student Succeeds Act may have reset education federalism boundaries to favor states, far exceeding their position prior to 2001.

While federal elementary and secondary education reform efforts since 2001 may intrigue legal scholars, a focus on educational federalism risks obscuring an even more fundamental development in educational policymaking power: its migration from governments to families, from regulation to markets. Amid a multidecade squabble between federal and state lawmakers over education policy authority, efforts to harness individual autonomy and market forces in the service of increasing children’s educational opportunity and equity have grown. Persistent demands for and increased availability of school voucher programs, charter schools, tax credit programs, and homeschooling demonstrate families’ desire for greater agency over decisions about their children’s education. Parents’ calls for greater control over critical decisions concerning their children’s education and schooling options may eclipse state and federal lawmakers’ legislative squabbles over educational federalism.

Keywords: elementary, secondary, education, federal, state, lawmakers, standardized testing, autonomy, No Child Left Behind Act, Every Student Succeeds Act, education policy, regulation, school voucher, tax credits, charter schools, home schooling, parental control, legislation, Congress, NCLB

Suggested Citation

Heise, Michael, From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism (January 26, 2018). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 117, No. 7, 2017, Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-46, Available at SSRN:

Michael Heise (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

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