The Federal Role in Elementary and Secondary Education, 1940-1980
Carl F. Kaestle and Marshall S. Smith
One of the central dynamics of American educational history is the long-range trend from local and parental schooling arrangements to increasing government funding and centralized control. The trend does not represent simply a benign process of modernization and improvement. Centralization has exacted costs and elicited fierce opposition. In the nineteenth century there were two key developments in this trend: the involvement of state governments in encouraging and regulating schooling, and the consolidation of small local districts into larger, townwide systems. Advocates of local control and nonpublic schooling who opposed these initial steps in the creation of state school systems voiced their objections in much the same terms as opponents of federal involvement do today. Notwithstanding, town-level consolidation and increasing state involvement continued into the twentieth century. Today Americans in both rural and urban areas are accustomed to centralized school districts, detailed state supervision, and substantial state financial aid for education. Curriculum, financial decisionmaking, teacher preparation and licensing, length of the annual school session—all are subject to state regulation. Opponents may contest individual policies and decry excessive bureaucracy, but the general role of the states in financing and regulating school districts' educational practices is widely accepted.