IN the mid- 1980s, the condition of the nation's schools became a major issue. It is not often that the schools gain the attention of the public for any sustained period of time. Some educators reacted angrily or defensively to the sudden scrutiny of the institution for which they were responsible, treating the unaccustomed concern for the schools as unwarranted attacks on them. Others realized that the time might be right to initiate some long-overdue reforms in the way schools function and to build public support for better education.
Usually, education is taken for granted as a public service that is available on an "as is" basis. People who do not have children are only dimly aware of what happens in schools; people who do have young children frequently care little about what happens beyond their own school.