In this essay, Jack Schneider and Andrew Saultz offer a new perspective on state and federal power through their analysis of authority and control. Due to limitations inherent to centralized governance, state and federal offices of education exercised little control over schools across much of the twentieth century, even as they acquired considerable authority. By the 1980s, however, such loose coupling had become politically untenable and led to the standards and accountability movement. Yet, greater exertion of control only produced a new legitimacy challenge: the charge of ineffectiveness. State and federal offices, then, are trapped in an impossible bind, in which they are unable to relinquish control without abdicating authority. Schneider and Saultz examine how state and federal offices have managed this dilemma through ceremonial reform, looking at two high-profile examples: the transition from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act, and states’ reaction to public criticism of the Common Core State Standards.

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