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Authority over power in English learner accountability policies: Maintaining a national role within a context of local control


  • Nelson Flores University of Pennsylvania
  • Erica Saldivar Garcia New York University
  • Adam Edgerton University of Pennsylvania



English learners, policy attribute theory, ESSA, standards-based reform, accountability


Pushback against the perceived federal overreach into educational reform has led to renewed calls for a return to local control of schools. In contrast to this general trend, there has continued to be a strong national role for English learner (EL) accountability policies related to EL identification, monitoring and reclassification processes. In this article, we seek to bring attention to the historical development and contemporary instantiation of these EL accountability policies. The general accountability system has typically focused on coercive strategies connected to rewards and sanctions. In contrast, the EL accountability system has typically focused on harnessing the expertise of research to provide increasingly specific guidelines for how to meet federal mandates related to supporting students officially classified as ELs. This approach may help explain how national actors have been able to maintain an active role in shaping these policies without being perceived as a threat to local control. We conclude with implications for national educational actors interested in using authority to shape other areas of educational policy as well as possible limitations of this approach.


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Author Biographies

Nelson Flores, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Flores is an associate professor in educational linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. His research examines the intersection of language, race, and the political economy in shaping U.S. educational policies and practices. He has been the recipient of many academic awards including a 2017 Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, the 2019 James Alatis Prize for Research on Language Planning and Policy in Educational Contexts and the 2022 AERA Early Career Award.

Erica Saldivar Garcia, New York University

Dr. Erica Saldívar García is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. She studies the biliteracy of multilingual youth, raciolinguistic and literacy ideologies, and language education policy.

Adam Edgerton, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Adam Edgerton earned his Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a researcher at C-SAIL and studied standards-based reform and teachers’ collective bargaining in Pennsylvania.




How to Cite

Flores, N., Saldivar Garcia, E., & Edgerton, A. (2023). Authority over power in English learner accountability policies: Maintaining a national role within a context of local control. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 31.