Manna, Paul

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Manna, Paul


Education: Northwestern University B.A., 1992; University of Wisconsin, Ph.D., 2003.


Office—Government Department, P.O. Box 8795, College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795. E-mail—[email protected].


College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA, assistant professor, 2003—. Former high school social studies teacher and debate coach.


School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda, Georgetown University Press (Washington, DC), 2006.


In his book School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda, Paul Manna, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary, outlines the ways in which public education has changed in America since the 1960s. Perhaps the most radical of these changes was the introduction of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. NCLB attempted to raise the performance of underachieving schools by holding states, school districts, and schools accountable for the performance of students. It also opened doors for parents to choose which schools their children attended. NCLB's most controversial provisions mandated that children should pass standardized tests to advance from one grade to the next, and that the results of those tests should be used to help determine federal funding for individual schools. In his work, wrote Lorraine M. McDonnell in the Teachers College Record, the author "examines federal education policy and the emergence of NCLB using federalism as the lens." Manna's account is unique among other analyses of NCLB, added McDonnell, in "presenting a conceptual model that extends beyond this specific case to help explain how the U.S. federal system creates opportunities for policymakers to advance their agendas even into areas where their influence is tenuous."

Manna's thesis is that the federal government and the state governments borrow capacity and justification from one another to accomplish their plans. "A government may have the capacity but lack the license to act or vice versa; government then seeks to borrow strength from other actors who are likely to possess the capacity or the license to act and essentially lend influence to actors who are in need of it in promoting a policy," wrote Christopher A. Simon in the Political Science Quarterly. Manna suggests that the complex relationship mandated in the U.S. Constitution can only be understood by an examination of the ways in which state and local politics affect the national government. "I argue," Manna wrote in School's In, "that one could characterize federal-state interactions in education as top-down and bottom-up, but neither of these approaches fully captures the complexity that has enabled the American federal system to influence education agendas in Washington and the states. Relationships between federal and state officials are much more pragmatic and fluid than either of these approaches, considered alone or together, would suggest." He added: "Recognizing how federal policymakers and their counterparts in state governments influence each other's agendas not only produces better descriptions of how education policy has changed but it also explains more generally how leaders set agendas and make policy in what James Madison called America's ‘compound republic.’" The result, the author points out, is a great expansion of power and authority on the federal, state, and local levels, giving those in favor of government intervention an assortment of tools to use in putting their plans into action.

NCLB serves as a primary example of this type of expansion of power. "While there was justification for federal education policymaking dating back to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965," explained Scott E. Robinson in Perspectives on Politics, "the federal government still had little structural capacity to influence educational practices in the various Kindergarten-12 campuses across the country. The only way to generate the support needed to pass the sweeping legislation was to borrow strength—in this case, capacity—from the state education institutions themselves." NCLB, Robinson concluded, "relies on federal fiscal and regulatory capacities built over previous decades, while drawing on state education organizations to carry out key tasks like designing and implementing standardized testing."



Manna, Paul, School's In: Federalism and the National Education Agenda, Georgetown University Press (Washington, DC), 2006.


Perspectives on Politics, March, 2007, Scott E. Robinson, review of School's In, p. 166.

Political Science Quarterly, March 22, 2007, Christopher A. Simon, review of School's In, p. 177.

Teachers College Record, November 9, 2006, Lorraine McDonnell, review of School's In.


Paul Manna Home Page, (August 16, 2008).