For more than 25 years, national attention has focused on improving the supposed sad state of education and workforce preparation in America. The initial stated intention was to ensure equal learning opportunities for students, professionalize teaching, raise standards, and produce a pre-eminent “world class” educational system. Concerted efforts that brought attention to an apparent overall national educational decline really began with the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk.
International achievement data from the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) as well as our own data showed the US as ranking #1 internationally in both academic achievement and college graduates into throughout 1980’s.
Some observers reading the “A Nation at Risk” report could be excused for believing that the decline and fall or our educational system began with the advent of school integration with racial minorities, the disabled, women, and limited English proficiency students.
When reading these reports today, one is able to see that the seeds of private school vouchers, tuition tax credits, school choice/free market solutions vis-à-vis Charter Management Organizations and the obsession with student achievement equated with exit exams/high stakes testing were all firmly planted at this point in time.
There are as many arguments holding counterviews that the reform movement’s ultimate objective was actually designed to dismantle public education, teachers unions, and promote intrusive government control into local and state issues.
It is interesting to note that the country was able to maintain a #1 world education ranking despite being in the minor distractions of a cold war arms race, worldwide recessions brought about by a convergence of banking deregulation safeguards, skyrocketing national debt, global shifts in labor markets/industrial production.
Oh yeah, and able to achieve being the first country to pass national legislation funding a system of free, appropriate and inclusive public education for all students with disabilities!
Moving into the 21st Century, the bulk of current literature, research, and governmental policy concerning education reform effectiveness focus on finding practical approaches of what schools can/should be.
We are told we need models capable of rapid scalability, and able to deliver concrete outcomes readily fitted for global assessment comparisons of academic achievement. The primary focus continues to be preparing students (under the age of 25) for pathways through higher education.
But one is hard-pressed to find much information of any that deals with which special education school-to-work & adult program/policies are working and worth continuing/replicating.
There are the noteworthy resources such as the National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities Center, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and the National Center on Disability earning national attention (or notoriety, depending on your perspective).
Beyond these few governmental sources, there has not been much of a national conversation louder than a whisper concerned with encouraging and improving continuing education opportunities for adult learners or people with disabilities beyond the K-16 system.