In this essay, the authors explore trends in intergovernmental relations (IGR) by analyzing recent education policies—No Child Left Behind Act, Common Core State Standards, and local empowerment policies. Identifying a resurgent role for local actors in education policy, the authors argue that recent federal efforts to exert more control have in many ways strengthened the influence of local actors by providing avenues for school districts and other local “non-system” players to challenge traditional governance arrangements. In a similar vein, because the federal government’s ability to achieve its goals rests primarily on actions of local players, federal policies have in the course of implementation strengthened the hand of many local actors.
Based on their analyses, the authors stress that IGR is not a zero-sum game. As one level gains power in certain domains, other levels may simultaneously acquire power in the same or different domains. The authors further argue that relations among federal, state, and local governments are bidirectional. Federal policy often requires states and districts to alter local policies, and conversely, decisions made by states and districts can also influence federal decisions. The authors begin the essay with an overview of the intergovernmental landscape, followed by an analysis of current education policies to illustrate the ways in which local actors have retained and asserted significant control over schooling, despite the expanded federal role in education policy. The essay concludes with questions for future research and practice.
This essay first appeared in Educational Researcher, 2013 42: 276.