America Goes to School: Law, Reform, and Crisis in Public Education

By Robert M. Hardaway | Go to book overview

Chapter One
Introduction: The State of Public Education

If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might very well have viewed it as an act of war.

A Nation at Risk1

No other country in the world produces more studies, commissions, reports, plans, assessments, reviews, and statistical abstracts on educational reform, or holds more conferences, symposia, and workshops on the subject. 2 Each report and study in turn spawns dozens, even hundreds, of scholarly and not-so-scholarly responses, articles, and reviews in rapidly proliferating educational journals and publications. 3

Unfortunately, the sheer number and volume of such studies means that most get lost or forgotten over time, overtaken by the most recently publicized study. Even worse, many of the most comprehensive studies are often deliberately shelved or ignored if they do not comport with preconceived or politically correct assumptions.

For example, in 1966 the U.S. Office of Education produced the most comprehensive government report on public education to date. Later referred to by the name of its chief author, James Coleman, the Coleman Report4 surveyed and tested over 600,000 students in 3,000 American public schools. This report was commissioned in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which required that an investigation be made of the extent of inequality in the nation's public schools. Although the original intent of the study was simply to document the inequalities already known to exist between schools in such areas as financing, teacher-faculty ratios, teacher education and salary, and school facilities, the study went beyond mere documentation and proceeded to make conclusions, based on its own extensive data as well as data accumulated from published studies, about the effects of such inequalities on actual student achievement.

To the consternation of the mortified government bureaucrats who had commissioned the study, the Coleman Report concluded, in the words of a Harvard Study, 5 that "schools are not very important

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