American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice

Discover what shapes how we talk about schools today by exploring the history of U.S. education reform. Engage with the main actors, key decisions, and major turning points in this history. See how social forces drive reform. Learn about how the critical tensions embedded in U.S. education policy and practice apply to schools nationally, globally— and where you live.

About The Course

Since 1983 and the National Commission on Educational Excellence’s publication of A Nation at Risk, education reform has been a national preoccupation, marked by a succession of reform strategies and plethoric innovations.  Catchphrases such as “reforming again and again,” “waves [or cycles] of reform,” and (more cynically) “spinning wheels” and “policy churn” capture the persistence and frenetic nature of contemporary education reform.  

This course provides a survey of the history of American education reform from the colonial period to the present.  Through an examination of the forces that have shaped our national discourse about educational change, we seek to answer the following questions: What visions, rationales, and assumptions guided education reformers in the past? What social forces spurred particular reforms and counter-reforms? How did the American curriculum adapt to changing times and how are contemporary reforms fundamentally different or similar to earlier efforts to revitalize public schools? What conceptual lenses does this history provide for understanding schooling and school reform on a global level?

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the most exciting thing about this course? 
    The videos in each episode are presented in a documentary-style format where lively tag-team lectures are supported by rich images that bring the history to life.
  • What resources will I need for this course? 
    No additional resources are needed for the basic course. For students who wish to earn the Statement of Accomplishment, access to a digital camera, scanner, or method of accessing images will be necessary. 

Recommended Background

No background is necessary.  All are welcome!