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Building the Federal Schoolhouse: Localism and the American Education State, Douglas S. Reed

Reviewed by Meghan Condon



The federal government’s role in education has increased dramatically over the last century, but operational control of American schools remains in local hands. Douglas S. Reed offers a novel take on the tale of shifting educational governance, telling it from the local point of view and situating it in the literature on American political development. This expansive book chronicles the response to federal education policy in Alexandria, Virginia, across six decades, tracing the local politics surrounding desegregation, special education, bilingual education, and accountability. Reed introduces the organizing concept of an interconnected education state as an alternative to the “grouping of segmented entities arrayed in a federalist structure” (p. 6). He demonstrates how local schools are embedded within two broader systems, the education state and the local political regime governing across policy areas. Doing so lays bare the tension inherent in an institution that must serve the political priorities of local actors while meeting federal pressure to increase equity.

The story of the Alexandria school system is a good one; readers may find themselves flipping to this book’s final page and turning to the Alexandria Times to find out what happens next. But Building the Federal Schoolhouse offers more than an eng

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