Over the past 50 years, the federal government's efforts to reform American public education have transformed U.S. schools from locally-run enterprises to complex systems in which federal, state and local actors jointly construct the educational environment of U.S. children. Through struggles over school integration, the growth of special education, the teaching of English learners and the rise of accountability politics, the federal role in U.S. education has meant a profound reconstruction of local expectations, roles and political alignments. Seeking to construct the federal schoolhouse - an educational system in which there are common national expectations and practices - has meant the creation of new modes of education within local institutions. The creation of this "education state " has also meant that federal educational initiatives have collided with - or reinforced - local political regimes in cities and suburbs alike. To the extent that "all politics is local, " the federal role in public schools has changed both the conduct and the norms of local educational politics.
Building the Federal Schoolhouse examines how increasing federal authority over public education in the U.S. changes the practices of 'operational localism' in education and how local regime commitments implement, thwart, or even block federal policy initiatives. The book examines these issues through an in-depth, fifty year examination of federal educational policies at work within one community, Alexandria, Virginia. The home of T.C. Williams High School, memorialized in the Hollywood movie Remember the Titans, Alexandria has been transformed within two generations from a Jim Crow school system to a new immigrant gateway school district with over 20 percent of its students English learners. Along the way, the school system has struggled to provide quality education for special needs students, sought to overcome the legacies of tracking and segregated learning and simultaneously retain upper-middle class students in this wealthy suburb of Washington, DC. Most recently, it has grappled with state and federally imposed accountability measures that seek to boost educational outcomes.
All of these policy initiatives have contended with the existing political regime within Alexandria, at times forcing the local regime to a breaking point, and at times bolstering its reconstruction. At the same time, the local expectations and governing realities of administrators, parents, politicians and voters alike have sharply constrained federal initiatives, limiting their scope when in conflict with local commitments and amplifying them when they align. Through an extensive use of local archives, contemporary accounts, school data and interviews, Reed not only paints an intimate portrait of the conflicts that the creation of the federal schoolhouse has wrought in Alexandria, but also documents the successes of the federal commitment to greater educational opportunity. In so doing, he highlights the complexity of the American education state and the centrality of local regimes and local historical context to federal efforts to reform education.