Education has played a central role in American politics and society. It has been a cornerstone of democratic government, an essential mechanism for integrating a diverse society, and a necessary component of economic development. The importance of education was understood from the founding of the United States, but the best and proper role of the federal government in education has been and remains a contentious issue. The federal role in education at first was very limited, a reflection of broad public preference for small government. While it has been hotly debated each step along the way, the federal role has expanded in response to changing social problems and circumstances. The evolution of the federal role began slowly, but quickened in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, while the states and their local school districts remain the primary players in education policy-making and funding, the federal role is very substantial. This volume examines the series of legislative landmarks that have shaped the changing federal role in American education.
Education has been a central feature—indeed, an indispensable feature—of American development. Noble prize-winning Swedish economist and sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, reflecting on the United States from a foreign perspective, concluded, “Education has in America's whole history been the major hope for improving the individual and society.”1 Broad access to quality education has al-