Reminiscent of a grade school game of dodge ball, government bodies at all but the most local levels have attempted to evade responsibility for ensuring quality public education over the last three decades. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court stymied discussion of meaningful federal involvement in public education by permitting states to manage intrastate educational systems in any “rational” manner. In the thirty years since this decision, desperate students and parents have repeatedly petitioned their state governments for assistance in the form of equal funding or equal opportunities. Courts and legislatures have thrown the ball back and forth, finding education systems unconstitutionally funded, then unconstitutionally inadequate and, oftentimes, impossible to assess. Meanwhile there exist schools that fail to prepare a single student for higher education operating within the same educational system as schools that rival the best in the world. These schools are not only unequal in the eyes of any observer but, in the case of the lesser performing schools, they are often wholly inadequate as well. There is a consensus that the existing system of public education must be fixed, but those with the power and resources to fix it continually shunt the responsibility to the least capable and most desperate.
With due respect to the rights of the several states to govern themselves, as well as to the wisdom of local control, the federal government needs to fill this gap of responsibility with resources only it possesses. Financial and organizational resources of the federal government have proven indispensable in other venues and need not infringe on the values enshrined in the law of federalism. Moreover, the specific challenges of modern public education suggest the necessity of such a comprehensive solution. The current favored response to these challenges values accountability and measurable standards. In this reform environment, there is a natural pressure to develop externally objective metrics and uniformity between districts. For these standards to be meaningful, however, they must be rooted in something more than mere common sense or parochial wisdom; they must draw from the lessons of all fifty states and hundreds of localities in a coordinated effort that values the end result above all. . . .