More and more education is largely seen as an economic concern: it is to help the individual and society compete economically and advance materially (Covaleskie, 2010). As part of this view, education is blamed when the economy is poor or the United States appears not to be competing well globally (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Bracey, 2001, 2007; Covaleskie, 2010). Though education is blamed and criticized in poor economic times, it does not receive comparable praise when the economy is doing well and when the United States’ role in the global marketplace is perceived as strong.
For the last decade, U.S. presidents, corporate leaders, and critics blasted public schools for a globally less competitive economy, sinking productivity, and jobs lost to other nations….Why is it now with a bustling economy, rising productivity, and shrinking unemployment, American public schools are not receiving credit for the turnaround? (Cuban, 1994)
The need for education to prepare us for economic superiority and global competition are familiar refrains in both state and national reform policy statements, stating that, though we were once the wealthiest and greatest nation on earth, because of inferior education, we are losing our competitive edge and first place status. Examples of these themes can be found in most national reform proposals from Sputnik to A Nation at Risk to the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top legislation.
Let us briefly consider A Nation at Risk, released in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, as an example. This reform document is well known and recent enough to be relevant to current policy proposals, but old enough to be examined within some historical context. The dramatic rhetoric in this politically and ideologically-driven policy statement is still echoed and influential in today’s thinking and reform agenda. The title itself suggests that the failure of schools and education had put our “nation at risk.”
Like today, the early eighties were a time of economic hardships and recession with similar problems caused by corruption and mismanagement in several political and financial institutions. Like today, instead of blaming bad corporate, political and financial decisions for the problems, bad schools and education were made the scapegoat for our “committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 1). Bracey accurately predicted this in his 17th Report on the Conditions of Education in 2007
In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, the National Center on Education and the Economy, the Broad Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have set up the public schools once again. If the subprime mortgage debacle sends us spiraling into recession, educators can expect to take the hit. (p. 124)