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Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards

Kevin R. Kosar
Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education Standards
ISBN: 978-1-58826-388-9
2005/259 pages/LC: 2005011304

"An authoritative source on the ironies that characterize contemporary education policy."—David E. Campbell, Political Science Quarterly

"Kosar's book gets much more than a passing grade itself; it is the standard by which subsequent books about the federal role will be judged."—Denis P. Doyle, The Doyle Report

"After one reads Kevin Kosar's Failing Grades the truly corrosive effects of oppositional politics on education becomes shockingly clear. The volume is an erudite and apolitical (in the best sense of that term) analysis of one promising and yet fully untried educational reform: higher federal education standards."—Aaron Cooley, Teachers College Record

"In this timely and comprehensive assessment, Kosar cogently argues for a more activist federal role in education." Kenneth K. Wong, Vanderbilt University

"Well-written, accessible and likely to be controversial."—Kathryn A. McDermott, University of Massachusetts


In the past fifteen years, presidents from two parties, supported by parents, teachers, and civic leaders have tried—and generally failed—to increase student achievement through federal policymaking. Supposedly pathbreaking legislation to "leave no child behind" has hardly made a dent in the problem. What is going on? Kevin R. Kosar delves into the political maneuvering behind the crafting of federal education standards.

Drawing on a wealth of evidence, Kosar makes a strong case for vigorous federal action to raise standards. Then, turning to the "real world" of Washington, he shows how politics has thwarted smart policy and how we are left with the present milquetoast reforms, which talk tough but deliver little. He concludes with sober proposals for education policies that, while not aiming at perfection, have a chance of surviving political attacks from both the right and the left.


Kevin Kosar is an analyst in the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress.


  • Introduction.
  • Student Achievement: A Rising Tide of Mediocrity?
  • The Case for Federal Policy to Raise Education Standards.
  • Education Policy and Politics Before 1983.
  • The Politics of Goals 2000.
  • Title I and Voluntary National Tests.
  • The No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Improving Federal Standards Policy.