Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The decline in the quality of the American educational system continues to spawn debate and criticism across the nation. Despite many suggestions and arguments on how to improve American schools, such as voucher systems, smaller class size, and higher teacher qualifications, the concern, while deeply felt, appears to be empty rhetoric. Teachers' low salaries, the disparity in funding among schools, and the lack of parent and community involvement demonstrate America's apathy towards education reform. To effectuate meaningful changes in education, American communities must reach consensus on education's purpose and importance.

The failure of schools requires America to take action. State and local governments appear slow to reform, and national studies reflect little improvement in the quality of education, especially for minority students. To expedite change, the U.S. Congress faces the question of whether to take the lead in educational reform. Faced with a myriad of potential education models, Congress may decide to follow England's lead and implement a national curriculum.

Congress may choose the English model because the United States' system of education is closely tied both historically and philosophically to England's system. Both British and U.S. educational systems originally operated on a strictly local level and discriminated against student groups. The two countries' national governments interceded to prevent racial discrimination in the United States and class discrimination in England. This national involvement has only continued to increase. In fact, Parliament's efforts at creating an equitable education recently culminated in the passage of a national curriculum. Although the United States has yet to make such a bold move, Congress' passage of education legislation and recent educational debate by the presidential candidates demonstrates America's willingness to seriously consider education as a federal issue. The U.S. Constitution, however, presents a serious obstacle to Congress' ability to federalize education and adopt England's national curriculum model.

This Note provides an overview of the legal development of United States and England's educational systems and the increased involvement of the national governments in these educational systems. Additionally, this Note compares the United States and England's legal and cultural differences and how these differences affect the costs and benefits of adopting England's model. Finally, this Note examines the federalist structure of United States government and Congress' constitutional powers, specifically under the Spending Clause and the Commerce Clause, to determine Congress' authority to federalize education.