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A silent revolution has transformed American education rivaling the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. This new movement — which goes by the name of “systemic” or “standards-based” reform — now dominates education policy in nearly every state, and is the basis for essentially all federal policy-making targeted at K-12 schools. This is not to ignore other competing strategies for the reform of our schools, most notably the inclusion of market competition (e.g., charter schools, school choice, vouchers), but even when these options are implemented they are typically being implemented within the broader context of systemic school reform.
The spark that ignited this revolution came not from national leadership but from the states, especially the highly influential report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, The Nation at Risk (1983), which galvanized the education community around the goal of combating the “rising tide of mediocrity” that was purported to be destroying our schools and placing our children at risk of falling behind in the global marketplace. But even before the publication of this landmark report, a number of governors, especially those in the South, had placed education high on their political agenda based on a realization that without efforts to upgrade the skills of their state’s children they would not be able to sustain economic growth in the new information-driven post-industrial economy.