The previous chapters of this book suggest that the nation's public education system is greatly affected by the social, economic, and demographic changes that are taking place in society. After the family, the schools are the most significant influence on the values, behavior, and learning of children and youth. Yet, the problems experienced by students, teachers, administrators, and parents in elementary and secondary schools and the prospects for effective remedial actions are often conditioned by factors that have little direct relevance to public education and often occur before the formal education process begins.
Perhaps the best illustration of the above point is the changing nature of the discipline problems experienced in public schools. In the 1950s and early 1960s, when one of the authors was enrolled in elementary and secondary schools, the chief problems included talking in class, running in the halls, speeding in the parking lot, getting out of turn in line in the cafeteria, wearing improper clothing, cheating on tests, and rivalry between vocational and college-bound students. By the 1980s and 1990s, the greatest problems in schools included substance abuse, pregnancy, absenteeism, assault, poor nutrition, robbery, murder, vandalism, and gang warfare. To this list could be added AIDS, racism, and multicultural tensions.
In this context, the public schools of our nation face a terrible dilemma. On one hand, expectations are high on the part of parents, employers, and public officials as far as the capacity of the elementary and secondary education systems to produce graduates who are employable and able to compete in a global economy is concerned. On the other, despite massive infusions of funding since the early 1980s, the educational mission and performance of public schools are compromised and complicated by the need to overcome social disadvantages and learning disabilities that originated and are reinforced outside the classroom.
Moreover, at a time when President Bill Clinton and many state and local officials are advocating the "reinventing" of government in terms of the roles,