Education in Crisis: The Postmodern Context
The debate about the effectiveness of education has gone beyond the question of whether there is a problem. Critics paint bleak pictures of the effectiveness of American education. The perception is that reform is generally ineffective or at best episodic and local in its successes. The acrimonious debates within the educational community are not perceived by the public as esoteric debates within the realm of academia but as proof that educators do not know what they are doing. This perception is a high-profile politicized concern of the general public, shaped by special interest groups and ambitious politicians.
From a political and public contemporary viewpoint, educational reform does not have a good track record (Smith, 1995; Branson, 1987). After the Education Summit at Palisades, New York, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter rejoiced in the fact that with a few exceptions, educators were left out of the conference. Alter continued his commentary on education as a “sea of mediocrity” by proclaiming that “whatever their individual talents, teachers' unions and educrats have failed as a group to save the public schools. It's time to let someone else try” (1996, p. 40). The educational establishment's handling of change was characterized in this manner: “It's not really a wall—they always talk about change but rather more like quicksand, or a tar pit where ideas sink slowly out of sight, leaving everything just as it had been” (Alter, 1996, p. 40). Summit participants concluded that instead of the “usual educational fads, ” deep structural change must occur in standards, assessment, and accountability. One might criticize Alter's writing as an attempt to sensationalize a complex issue; however, his opinions are more likely to be read by the general public than are the reasoned debates in educational journals. This