SINCE the late 1960s, American schools have been the object of intense criticism by those who claim that they have failed to promote equality of opportunity. One of the linchpins in this attack is the charge that the educational reforms of the Great Society era failed and that this failure demonstrates the bankruptcy of American social policy.
The legislative programs of the late 1960s did not eliminate educational inequality. Yet to ignore the substantial changes brought about during this period is to misunderstand recent history.
The major thrust of the Great Society educational reforms was the expansion of educational opportunity. This did not represent a break with the past, but rather a speeding up of long-term democratizing trends in education. If one uses participation as a measure, it is clear that there has been rapid growth in the enrollment of those not compelled to attend school. The proportion of three- and four-yearolds in nursery school has jumped from 10 percent to 32 percent. The number enrolled in college has doubled since 1965, from 6 million to 12 million.