Vie 1983 release of "A Nation at Risk" by the National Commission on Excellence in Education set the agenda for education policy in the United States. This essay analyzes how the commission defined the problems facing the nation's school system and how this construction framed the policy debate and thus constrained reform options. The impact of this definition for education discourse, education policy, and American society is then examined. [E]ducation is a contested term in our culture not just because our nation long ago accepted public schooling but because we link education to a range of positive values and assumptions about what will benefit both individuals and the nation.^ Margaret Marshall oliticians cannot lose by claiming education as a campaign issue. It is a valence issue, a regular subject of rhetorical pieties. Nobody argues that they want to hurt the economy. No one stands up and says "Elect me and I'll increase the crime rate." And no sane politicians say they are against improving the nation's schools.Often, the lip semce is just that. In her study of education discourse from 1890-1900, historian Margaret Marshall notes that education, though often low on the true priority list, is a topic that is constantly on the nation's political agenda. "Americans stul argue about, agonize over, and insist on the need to improve public schools," she argues, "And yet, somehow, the tone of public discussions about education periodically takes on a kind of urgency, and the discussion congeals around a sense of new crisis in the public schools that demands immediate reform."^ April 26,1983, the day the National Commission on Excellence in Education released their report, A Nation at Risk: Tlie Imperative for Educational Reform, was one of those times of urgency. Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 following a period of economic unrest and stagnation. One of the themes he reiterated was that we needed to scale back Holly G. McIntush is a research specialist with the Texas House Of Representatives Office of Bill Analysis in Austin, Texas. She would like to thank Marty Medhurst and Jim Aune for reading and advising on earlier drafts of this essay.
© Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 3, No. 3, 2000, pp. 419-43 ISSN 1094-8392




government. Part of his original agenda was to eliminate the newly created cabinetlevel Department of Education. Reagan's first education secretary, Terrel H. Bell, "arrived in Washington fuUy expecting to be back in Salt Lake City within the year."* Bell's assigned task was to develop a plan to dismantle the department. However, the commission he created in April of 1982 ended dismantling plans with the release of A Nation at Risk. Three years after the report came out, education journalist and commentator Edward B. Fiske asked Bell what led him to create the commission, considering that his assigned task was to eliminate the department. As Fiske recalls, BeU responded: Let me tell you the story. It's a little embarrassing, but here goes: I was worried about the folks over at the Heritage Foundation and all of the right-wing ideologues who were running around the Reagan administration or on the periphery, especially during the early years. They were saying that American schools weren't any good, and I thought that if I could get a blue-ribbon commission to study the situation and come out with a report saying American schools are OK, that would get the right wing off my back.^ However, the commission's report reached exactly the opposite conclusion. The commission stated that America's schools were in crisis, and that reform was absolutely essential. Rather than muting the clamor for school reform, A Nation at Risk: The Jmperative for Educational Reform, armed reform advocates with rhetori-

cal fire—something quotable, from a "blue-ribbon" commission, no less. The report has been labeled a "brilliantly conceived, . . . enormously important political document,"^ and a "best-seller-report"' that "captured the public imagination."^ Analysts and commentators cannot agree on whether the commission actually reported anything new or substantive. But what cannot be overestimated is the influence the document has had on public discourse. The very fact that it was so hotly contested from the time it came out increased its impact. The commission labeled its report "An Open Letter to the American People," and in many ways it was. The day after it was released, large portions were reprinted in newspapers across the nation, including the New York Times and the M^ashington Post.'^ Kurt Senske's study of the impact of Reagan's rhetoric on education policy at the state and local level reports: "The press clipping service for the Department of Education revealed that the commission's report made the front page of almost every major newspaper across the nation. Similarly, the evening news of the three major networks featured the release of the Report as their lead story."^° Commentary and editorials followed in the next days and weeks. * ^ The report also influenced education policy at the state level. Educational historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban report that "In the mid-1980s, responding to the 'crisis' announced by A Nation at Risk, the states promulgated more educational



laws and regulations than they had generated in the previous twenty years." ^^ A Nation at Risk wa.s not just a temporary sensation. It is referred to whenever education reform is discussed. Twelve years after its release, Richard Riley, Clinton's secretary of education, titled his second annual State of American Education Address: "Turning the Corner: From a Nation at Risk to a Nation with a Future."^^ In this essay, I argue that A Nation at Risk generated a new discourse on education reform and structured the debates for years to come. The group that produced the report—the National Commission on Excellence in Education—set the agenda for education policy. It shifted the focus of education discourse from education as a means of social and political equalization to education as a means to economic prosperity. This shift carried with it a potential threat to educational equality. A Nation at Risk provides a rare opportunity to study how the ways in which a problem is defined help to shape policy options. The questions this essay asks, are: How does A Nation at Risk define the problems facing the nation's school system? And how does this construction structure the policy debate and constrain reform options? To answer these questions, I will first give an overview of the history and functions of presidential task forces and commissions in order to situate A Nation at Risk in relation to them. Then, I'll look at the literature on issue definition and agenda setting, which lays out the theoretical framework that guides the analysis. Next, I'll move to the analysis itself, examining the language and themes the commission uses to frame education as an issue and a problem, and how that framing ultimately affects the recommendations it offers. Finally, I'll examine the implications of the solution for education discourse, policy, and American society.

Presidential commissions are by no means a new invention. They have been used by chief executives since the beginning of the republic.^'^ David Flitner

Presidents and their staffs turn to special task forces and commissions for a variety of reasons. Special commissions extend the power of the president more directly into the bureaucracy. Tasks force members bring in new information and viewpoints. Often, they are commissioned to address an issue that is swiftly becoming a political crisis. Most importantly, commissions lend legitimacy and an aura of prestige and objectivity to policy deliberations. As Flitner notes, "Simply by their existence, commissions symbolize cognizance and concern over a situation at the highest level."^^ Commissions and task forces are neither new nor rare. Congress and the executive branch employ hundreds of small task forces, permanent and ad hoc, secret and public, routine and special, every year. Of these, a few stand out in public memory because their creation and findings became public and were used as political



catalysts.^^ In Tite Politics of Presidential Commissions, Flitner credits Theodore

Roosevelt with cementing the commission's place as a prominent political institution by using it to address issues which were national in scope. When commissions address a "crisis" or a nationally salient issue, they "can represent a symbolic tool with which the President communicates awareness of a situation that is of concern to his constituency, reassures the disaffected that they will not be ignored, and responds to the sense that he must do something."^^ Specifically, Flitner divides the influence of these public commissions into two arenas: the political and the social. This study will focus on what he labels the social response—the way in which commissions shape the way society talks about, acts on, and thinks about issues. As Flitner notes, "Beyond the purely academic context, commissions have affected the social climate. They have helped to redefine issues, increase awareness, demythologize certain points, legitimize ideas, and inspire." ^^ He then lays out four functions/methods of social education used by presidential commissions: public education, demythologizing, legitimation, and inspiration. The scope of public education resulting from commissions can vary widely. Some activities and reports fade very quickly, but others "have found their way into the public spotlight and have become part of the language of certain subjects." ^^ Whether through eloquence, shock, or just sheer range of distribution, some reports have changed the way we talk about and thus act on the issues discussed. In fact, the Kerner Report on civil rights during the Johnson administration is credited with creating a new dialogue and framework for dealing with race relations: "Commissioner and Senator Fred Harris added: 'No witness before any congressional committee dealing with a related subject was able to avoid reference to it.... The report. . . forces America to make conscious choices. We can no longer claim the luxury of unawareness.'"-^ The influence on dialogue and action does not have to be immediate to be significant. For example, the Kerner Report was not the only commission to influence subsequent civil rights legislation. The President's Commission on Civil Rights, created by Truman in 1946, also inspired components of the 1960s civil rights measures.^' Beyond the general advancement of public awareness and knowledge, commissions can also serve a demythologizing function. Flitner observes that they are used to "put popularly held misconceptions to rest and lower the emotional content of certain controversial issues."^^ The best-known commission created for this purpose (though unsuccessful) was the Warren Commission. Other commissions which set out to diffuse political tensions were the Katzenbach Commission on law enforcement, the aforementioned Kerner Report, and the Eisenhower Commission on violence (created by the LBJ White House). Presidential commissions also serve a legitimizing function. They lend credibility to issues and specific policy proposals. Since "their existence suggests official government concern about a given subject,"-^ their specific proposals "seem to have an edge



over ideas that emanate from other sources, mainly because these panels are wellpositioned to capture the president's attention."^'* In other words, commissions can set the agenda. Their creation defines an issue as a legitimate problem, and their reports offer solutions. President Eisenhower's task forces on higher education and scientific "manpower" helped to legitimize education as an issue for national legislation and led directly to the creation of the National Defense Education Act in 1958.^^ The final goal of special commissions and task forces is inspiration. After educating the public, stripping them of their misconceptions, and providing them with new policy options, "commissions seek . . . to inspire the citizenry to do something with their information."-^ The Scranton Commission on campus unrest, created during the Nixon administration, was very explicit about this function. Its report appealed to the nation as a whole and referred to shared values in its call to action: Despite the differences among us, powerful values and sympathies unite us. The very motto of our nation calls for both unity and diversity: from many, one. Out of our divisions, we must now recreate understanding and respect for those different from ourselves Reconciliation must begin We must start. All of us.^^ One of the best-known post-war task forces was the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The Commission was chaired by David P. Gardner, who was president of the University of Utah. Its other 17 members included three more college and university presidents, two professors, and one CEO. State-level officials included the governor of Minnesota, Nebraska's former Commissioner of Education, and the Virginia State School Board president. The members also represented the elementary and secondary school system through association presidents, a school board president, a superintendent, two principals, and an award-winning teacher.^^ Though the commission was created by Secretary Terrel H. Bell, it is often attributed to and will be forever linked with President Ronald Reagan. Janet KerrTener labeled it "one of the more inñuential public commissions we've seen in a long time."-^ The report they released, A Nation at Risk, educated the public on the problems facing America's schools, stripped the nation of the myth that our schools were the best in the world, legitimized state and local efforts to reform education systems—both those already in effect and those to come—and inspired a new discourse and a new round of reform. Whue the commission's impact on the educational agenda was lasting, it is important to note that the coverage of the report was not all positive. Sandra L. Hunt and Ann Q. Staton conducted a content analysis of papers written in response to A Nation at Risk, observing that the report "catapulted the issue of educational reform



into the public sphere. . . [and] was followed by lively discourse, the emergence of numerous additional reform reports and educational policy documents, the publication of essays and studies in the scholarly educational literature, legislative action and gubernatorial attention in many states across the country, and widespread corporate involvement."-^^ Noting the conflicting coverage, they repeatedly state that the report was a "political document," rather than a "blueprint for reform." The report was indeed a political document, which is why it could function as a blueprint for reform. It is impossible to create a blueprint for reform that is not political and thus rhetorical in nature. Facts are never simply presented; their very presentation is an interpretation. And the interpretation of those facts guides our implementation of policy. By presenting a blueprint for reform, A Nation at Risk set the agenda for education policy.

In recent years, scholars in political science have begun to study the agenda-setting process in more depth. Their work takes an institutional perspective, and thus cannot explain all parts of the process. By integrating this work with the theories of Chaim Perelman and Kenneth Burke, public affairs scholars have the opportunity to advance the study of agenda setting by answering the questions left unanswered in the traditional agenda-setting literature. Two of the leading works on the agenda-setting process are Agendas, Alternatives,
and Public Policy by John Kingdon, and Agendas and Instability in American Politics

by Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones. Kingdon lays out a four-step model of the policy-making process: "(1) the setting of the agenda, (2) the specification of alternatives from which a choice is to be made, (3) an authoritative choice among those specified alternatives,... and (4) the implementation of the decision."^^ He focuses his study on understanding the first two steps in the process by answering the questions "How does an idea's time come?" and "What makes people in and around government attend, at any given time, to some subjects and not to others?"^^ His conclusion is that policy making is a process with three distinct streams: problems, policies, and politics. Kingdon asserts that these three streams are primarily separate entities. People discuss problems when they do not have policy solutions and people work on solutions to issues that are not considered problems. When the three streams join, the greatest policy changes are possible. The times of joined streams are characterized by Baumgartner and Jones as "short, violent periods of change"—part of a pattern of "punctuated equilibrium." Baumgartner and Jones claim that the periods of stability are interrupted when previously disadvantaged interests are able to achieve a change in issue defmition.^^



Central to both these models is the idea that before an issue can be acted on, it must first make it onto the nation's agenda. The issue must be singled out for attention. This concept is much like Perelman's theory of presence: "Choosing to single out certain things for presentation in a speech draws the attention of the audience to them and thereby gives them a presence that prevents them from being neglected."^'* The issue is given presence through being deñned as a problem. Both Kingdon's work and that of Baumgartner and Jones make the assumption that issue definition can be changed and thus become a catalyst to cause the streams to join. In a later study, Kingdon makes the assertion that "Government recognition of a problem often involves interpretation and perception, not simply observing objective conditions. There is a difference between a problem and a condition. . . . So how do we transform conditions into problems? Conditions become problems when we feel we should and can do something to change them."-^-^ Later he admits that more work needs to be done to understand how the three streams converge. This study focuses on one time period when the streams did, in fact, converge. A Nation at Risk defined a problem, suggested solutions, and captured the nation's political attention. The key to understanding the merging of the streams is examining exactly how issue definitions change. Kingdon says that solutions are developed even when there is no perceived problem, and problems are identified with no immediate solution in mind. But how do the streams join? How are issues defined as problems? How are problems and solutions linked to one another? Once again, Perelman gives us insight into this process: "Agreement on the manner of presenting facts . . . can facilitate the audience's agreement on the substance of a problem."^^ There is no set point at which a condition becomes a problem; it is aU a matter of presentation and interpretation. A condition becomes a problem when the facts are presented in such a way as to make it one. My approach to examining this artifact is guided by the presupposition that all presentations of facts are partial presentations, for as Kenneth Burke observed: "Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reaUty.""*^ Linguistic choices are inherently restrictive and persuasive. The successful politician chooses to define an issue so as to make it a problem that can be solved by the available/desired policy options. Whether the problem or the solution comes first, they must be clearly connected. In A Nation at Risk, members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education defined education as an individual good, and thereby linked it to their solution of increased individual responsibility. In doing so, they joined a long line of special commissions and task forces that rehabilitated the way an issue is depicted and understood. The first evidence of this rehabilitation is found in their use of language and imagery.



Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur— others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.^^

From the opening paragraph, A Nation at Risk treated education reform as an urgent problem couched in economic terms. It presented data, discussed flndings, and recommended action based on this perspective. Members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education chose to present problems in the nation's school system that were related to the economy. The way they defined education and its problems motivated their findings and recommendations. Throughout A Nation at Risk, war metaphors, free market topoi, and individualist values guided both the presentation of facts and the proposal of solutions. War Metaphors Metaphors are not simply a figure of language; they can actually structure how we think about an issue. In Metaphors We Live By., George Lakoff and Mark Johnson lay out a theory of how metaphors not only structure our sentences, but our very way of understanding: "Metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature."^^ When we understand one thing in terms of something else, we necessarily focus on some aspects and ignore others. By providing a focus and perspective, the metaphors we use give us a way to understand our world. Michael Osborn argues that by identifying the metaphors a rhetor uses we can gain insight into his/her agenda: "Metaphors can reveal both surface and depth agendas as well as the vulnerability of an audience.""**^ A Nation at Risk is fllled with war metaphors which tap into the audience's fear of war and sense of competitive nationalism.'^^ The analogy to war is explicitly laid out on the opening page ofthe report: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.... Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect.



been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral, educational disarmament." The report goes on to speak of needing a "well-trained" citizenry. These men and women will have well-developed "powers of mind and spirit." This training and these powers will be used to win the "modern scientific revolution." The commission speaks of müitary leaders complaining of having to spend money on "remedial education and training programs" to make up for the insufficient training students received in the school system. According to the commission, a poor education system is literally imperiling national security. Just before discussing its findings, the commission reiterates the theme that "the safety of the United States depends principally on the wit, skill, and spirit of a self-confident people."*^ By framing education reform in the terms of war, the commission created an aura of impending doom and thus gave education reform extreme urgency. We must rally the troops and all work together to win this global battle. We are fighting against all the other nations in a war of economies.
Free Market Ideology

James Arnt Aune lays out the common topoi of free market rhetoric in his book.
Selling the Free Market. To summarize, the message of economic analysis of human behavior is that: 1) People respond to incentives, 2) There is an inverse relationship between price and quantity demanded, 3) Efficiency defined in terms of wealth maximization is a useful standard for evaluating public policy, 4) Information and transaction costs need to be considered in analyzing human behavior and policy outcomes.'*^ Free market purists, such as Milton Friedman and Richard Posner, argue that when the system is not working, it is not because the system itself is flawed, but rather because there is a barrier that needs to be removed. In A Nation at Risk, a poor education system is the barrier to economic prosperity. The report frames the entire debate in economic terms and reflects free market ideology in many of its assumptions. The commission discusses the issue of education reform in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Before discussing the specific problems with the school system, it claims that the school system is overburdened: They [schools] are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools and colleges often exact an educational cost as well as a financial ^^



The implication is that these demands cost more than they are worth, because they compromise the quahty of education. The report also starts from the assumption that students are rational actors who examine the costs and benefits of their educational choices: "We find that for too many people education means doing the minimum work necessary for the moment." Because "we tend to express our educational standards and expectations largely in terms of'minimum requirements,'" students will always try to minimize the costs of education (i.e., their efforts).^^ The report also rests arguments on the supply-and-demand curve. First, it discusses how the supply of skilled workers is not keeping up with market demands. Then, the report labels as "superfluous" those courses that are not directly related to the development of these "marketable" skills. The report carries the economic analogy further by using production metaphors. The commission argues that "Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the raw materials of international commerced It also cites "the traditional belief that paying for education is an investment in ever-renewable human resources."'^^ According to A Nation at Risky schools are a national factory turning out welltrained citizens capable of winning the economic war. While the economic themes in the report refer to a national crisis, the free market ideology is also closely linked with American individualism, which holds that the responsibility for economic gain lies with the individual.

In 1985, Robert N. Bellah and colleagues published Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, in which they note that the intense individualism in American society, first observed by Alexis de Tocqueville, is still alive and well. Individualism is characterized by an attitude of competition: "If you work hard, you'll make it." But it does not stop with what is commonly called the Protestant work ethic. Since there are others out there working hard and trying to make it as weU, "You can't just work hard, you have to work harder than everyone else." This spirit is pervasive in American society: Yet through all these wrenching threats to prosperity there has been curiously little public protest about the changing rules of the economic game. We are divided, we are told, by race, by culture, by creed, by differing views of the national identity. But we are united, as it turns out, in at least one core belief, even across lines of color, religion, region, and occupation: the belief that economic success or misfortune is the individual's responsibility, and his or hers

Since A Nation at Risk defines education as a means to economic gain, and economic gain is considered to be an individual responsibility, the report is permeated by individualist language and assumptions.



The most obvious manifestation of individualist philosophy is simply the frequent use of the term "individuals." "The people of the United States need to know that individuals in our society who do not possess the levels of skill, literacy, and training essential to this new era will be effectively disenfranchised " The emphasis is not on the American people as a whole; rather, individuals will suffer. And those who prosper will do so "by virtue of their own efforts.... [They] can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself." The interests of society are subservient to and contingent upon the interests, effort, and success of the individual. Even the discussion of faults in the schools themselves have an individualist bent—the schools' failing is that they have not set high enough standards at which the individual can aim. By setting high standards, the schools help to raise the "personal expectations" of students and help "to develop the talents of all to their fullest." Still, the emphasis is on the individual working toward the higher standards. By aiming for higher standards, the students can achieve "the persistent and authentic American dream that superior performance can raise one's state in life and shape one's own future."'^^ In the end, education is defined as an individual good. Education helps the individual to gain economic power. Therefore, it is the individual's responsibility to arm him- or herself for the global economic war. So far, I have described how war metaphors and free market and individualist language and assumptions guided the commission's definition of education. Now, I will demonstrate how those assumptions and the resulting definition of education as an individual good directly links to the commission's recommendations.

The way we define an issue influences the policies we advance. This influence is very clear in A Nation at Risk. The terminology and principles of war metaphors, the free market, and individualism guide the commission's conclusions and proposals. In the "Eindings" section of the report, most of the data includes comparisons to other countries. Eor example: In many other industrialized nations, courses in mathematics (other than arithmetic or general mathematics), biology, chemistry, physics, and geography start in grade 6 and are required of all students. The time spent on these subjects, based on class hours, is about three times that spent by even the most science-oriented U.S. students.'*^ By contrasting the American system to other countries, the report harkens back to the opening paragraphs, when the commission stated that America faced an economic war against those industrialized nations. Eurther, American students are not



prepared to wage economic warfare because "many students complete high school and enter college without disciplined and systematic study habits." The solution is to require students to take courses that are equivalent to or tougher than those of other countries, courses which require "rigorous" effort.^^ The commission also offered solutions based on the tenets of the free market. First of all, the shortage of teachers is caused by low salaries, because they, like students, follow a cost-benefit analysis model. Therefore, the solution is to raise the salaries and power of teachers. Also, because the purpose of education is to enable economic success, the curriculum should focus on the practical application of materials. Further, social studies should focus on economics, and students should be taught foreign languages to prepare for work in a global economy.^^ Individualism is as prevalent in the findings and proposed solutions as it is in the definition sections. The major finding is that schools do not expect enough from their individual students. The solution is fairly simple: raise expectation levels. Once again, the pei-vasiveness of individualism is best seen through the many references to the individual student. "Whatever the student's educational or work objectives, knowledge of the New Basics is the foundation of success for the after-school years." "The high school curriculum should also provide students with programs requiring rigorous effort in subjects that advance students' personal, educational, and occupational goals." Because education is an individual good, it is the individual's responsibility^ to work harder: "Students in high schools should be assigned far more homework." Further, rather than grouping students by age, they should be classified solely on individual ability, progress, and needs.''Individual students are responsible for taking advantage of the educational system. But the individualism does not stop there. Although the report makes several references to the nation, it makes very few to the national government. The nation is not asked to act; individual schools and citizens are. For example, the report is very explicit about this point when referring to the need for higher standardized test scores: "The tests should be administered as part of a nationwide (but not Federal) system of state and local standardized tests." The "Leadership and Fiscal Responsibility" section rests most of the responsibility for enacting reforms with principals, superintendents, and local and state officials. The role of the federal government is limited to identifying the national interest and providing financial assistance for special populations. The final exhortation for action is not to government officials, but to parents and students: [Parents,] you bear a responsibility to participate actively in your child's education [Students,] even with your parents' best example and your teachers' best efforts, in the end it is your work that determines how much and how well you learn It is . . . the America of all of us, that is at risk; it is to each of us that this imperative is addressed. It is by our wiUingness to take up the challenge, and our resolve to see it through, that



America's place in the world will either be secured or forfeited. Americans have succeeded before, and so we shall

The other, more indirect, legacy of A Nation at Risk is the increasing popularity of school choice initiatives. This move follows from the focus on free market assumptions and individualism.^'* If competition creates excellence, as per the free market model, then it follows that a free market in schools would only increase the quality of those schools. If it is the individual's responsibihty to take advantage of all educational opportunities, then those individuals should have the ability to do all they can to improve their education, including choosing their own school. School choice initiatives are a natural extension of the free market ideology embedded throughout the report. If the law of supply and demand and the benefits of competition apply within schools and across nations, then they should logically extend between schools. School choice was first linked to A Nation at Risk by President Reagan in the Rose Garden ceremony in which the commission officially presented the report to the president. Despite the fact that the phrase "school choice" is nowhere in the document, Reagan praised the report for its support of exactly that policy.^"" Since then, the advocates of school choice have steadily gained support. There is an interesting contradiction in the commission's move from crisis rhetoric to individual solutions. Denise Bostdorff's work on foreign crisis rhetoric notes that such rhetoric generally serves a unifying function, as it brings the nation together as a community against an outside threat.-^^ So how does A Nation at Risk make the leap from foreign crisis to individual responsibility? First of all, as noted by Bostdorff, most crisis rhetoric is characterized by an us-versus-them mentality. They are the evil perpetrators. We are the innocent victims. But A Nation at Risk does not follow that pattern. The commission specifically lays the blame for the problem with Americans: "we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."^'' If Americans have "allowed this to happen," then Americans must be responsible for the reversal. The commission smoothed the road to this conclusion by connecting to the principle of individual responsibility. As Bellah and his colleagues note, when the subject is economic success, the conclusion is clear: it is solely an individual responsibility. The American Dream states that anyone who works hard can succeed—but it requires individual effort. By Unking education to individual economic success, the commission firmly cements improvements in the school system as an individual responsibility. This combination of appeals apparently worked, if polls taken by the Reagan administration in its wake are any indication. Kurt Senske's study of the impact of Reagan's education rhetoric reports substantial support for the recommendations that conclude the report. Specifically, "84 percent of the American people beheved that either the state or local governments should have the primary responsibility for elementary and secondary education.""^^ A Nation at Risk



had succeeded in convincing the American public that there was indeed a crisis, but that it should not be combated at the federal level.

By examining the way that A Nation at Risk defined the issue of education and the problems with it, it is easy to see how the National Commission on Excellence in Education reached the conclusions it did. If education is defined as an individual good that helps a person to compete in the free market system, then it makes sense that the individual, and the governments closest to that individual (students, then parents, then teachers, then school administration, then local government, then state, then national) should be held responsible for school reform and the financing of that reform. This structuring of the education dialogue has implications for education discourse, education policy, and society as a whole.

Impact on Education Discourse
The link between issue definition and policy is most evident in the immediate solutions proposed by the commission; however, the report also helped to structure future discourse on education. Kerr-Tener credits this report and its interpretation by Reagan and his second education secretary, William Bennett, with "successfully reformulating the rhetoric of federal aid to education."^^ So far, the most lasting effect has been to keep the discourse focused on education as a means of economic success. For example, while he was governor of New York, Mario Cuomo wrote a book detailing his policy achievements and objectives. In it, he spent more space talking about education in the section entitled "Preparing the Workforce," than he did in the section on "The Decade of the Child."'^° Education scholars David Purpel and Svi Shapiro argue that the trend since A Nation at Risk has been to "tie the quest for higher economic growth to the reform of public education, [therefore], public discussion of schooling [has been] increasingly dominated by the language and logic of industrial life—the concern with output, performance, and productivity."^^ By choosing to focus on economic gain and individual responsibility, the commission necessarily neglected the issue of equality, which had been the focus of much education discourse since President lohnson. In fact, the priority shift was so complete that in his 1991 "Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy," President Bush used the most important Supreme Court decision related to equality to argue for the importance of education in economic development: Nothing better defines what we are and what we will become than the education of our children. To quote the landmark case Brown versus Board of Education, "It is



doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education." Education has always meant opportunity. Today, education determines not just which students will succeed but also which nations will thrive in a world united in pursuit of freedom in enterprise. Think about the changes transforming our world: the collapse of communism and the Cold War, the advent and acceleration of the Information Age. Down through history, we've defined resources as soil and stones, land and the riches buried beneath. No more. Our greatest national resource lies within ourselves: our intelligence, ingenuity, the capacity of the human ^

Brown v. Board and subsequent civu rights rhetoric focused on the ability of education to equaUze. It recognized the fundamental truth articulated by Marx and Engels that the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it.^^ President Bush turned an argument for education as a force for economic equalization into an argument for education as a tool for economic competition, and he did so in language very similar to that of A Nation at Risk. The similarity is not simply the result of recency or Bush's being Reagan's vice president. The following excerpts from President Clinton's 1999 State of the Union address also foUow the major tenets of A Nation at Risk. First, he subscribes to the definition of education as a tool for economic gain: "Their education must provide the knowledge and nurture the creativity that will allow our entire nation to thrive in the new economy." Next, he compares American students to their future economic competitors from other nations: You know, our children are doing better. SAT scores are up; math scores have risen in nearly all grades. But there's a problem. While our 4th graders outperform their peers in other countries in math and science, our 8th graders are around average, and our 12th graders rank near the bottom. We must do better. Then, Clinton embraces the theme of local responsibility for education: "First, later this year, I wül send to Congress a plan that, for the first time, holds states and school districts accountable for progress and rewards them for results." Finally, Clinton partially coopts Reagan's extension of the report. While Reagan argued for choice across public and private schools, Clinton embraces the concept of school choice strictly within the public school system:



Fourth, we must empower parents, with more information and more choices. In too many communities, it's easier to get information on the quality of the local restaurants than on the quality of the local schools. Every school district should issue report cards on every school. And parents should be given more choices in selecting their public

The legacy of A Nation at Risk is still alive today. It has shaped how we talk about and thus act on education reform. A Nation at Risk enacted a key shift which has serious implications for education policy today. The report shifted education discourse from issues of education-as-means-of-social-equalization to education-asmeans-of-economic-competition. Impact on Education Policy Education has always served multiple purposes. David Tyack chronicles the changes in school organization during the search for "the one best system" that would "lift American social and economic life."^^ Observing the same trend, KerrTener notes that "When education has appeared as a top priority, it has often done so as a handmaiden to other pressing national interests."^^ Louis Althusser goes one step further and notes that education is essential in the reproduction of society and its ruling ideology. Education not only teaches children technical "know-how," it also imparts "rules of morality, civic and professional conscience,... and ultimately the rules of the established order."^'' In other words, education maintains the ideological order for the nation. Eormer commissioner of education Erancis Keppel confirms that, in the United States, education has invariably been linked with other issues rather than being advanced for its own sake. Specifically, he sees four themes in presidential rhetoric on education. It is viewed as a tool for nation-building, the incorporation of new citizens, international competition, and as a civil right.^^ Each time national attention is focused on education, it is linked to one of these four themes. Rather than being seen as an issue in its own right, it is commodified. It is viewed primarily as a means to other ends. The ways we discuss education change as the goals we are using it to achieve change. Therefore, wrapped up in the controversy over how to educate our children is the conflict over what goals, issues, and values that education should advance. The first two themes (nation-building and the incorporation of new citizens) were primarily the focus early in our nation's history. In recent years, education discourse has alternated between the latter two themes, international competition and civil rights. While these four themes have aM existed in education discourse, I would argue that the more important distinction is in how the themes are utilized: they have been used to argue for education as a civil rights tool—a means towards social, political, and economic opportunity and equalization—and



they have been used to advance education as an economic commodity—a means toward competition.
Education as Civil Right versus Education as Economic Commodity Perhaps the best example of arguments that focus on education as a social equalizer is the 1954 Brown v. The Board of Education decision. In the Court's opinion. Chief Justice Earl Warren argued that since education is the key to so much future success, it is a fundamental right: We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in Ufe if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.^^

As Chief Justice Warren saw it, not providing equal education was a devastating form of discrimination and a violation of students' civil rights. As President Johnson and other civil rights leaders saw it, education became a means to overcome past discrimination. A quality education could provide the means for aU citizens to participate in the body politic and the economic community. A Nation at Risk's most influential legacy was that it shifted the focus from how education could be used to achieve equality to how education functions as a means of economic competition. This shift can be seen throughout the document. The focus on the free market and the war metaphors carry with them an emphasis on competition. Free market ideology teaches us that competition is a good thing—it inspires us to try our best and push ourselves to the limit. This is more than a semantic shift: there is a trade-off between equality and competition. The commission's competition-related findings and proposed solutions, particularly the focus on standardized achievement tests, the support of ability grouping and tracking, and the subsequent consideration of school choice initiatives, have very serious implications for educational equality today. According to the National Commission on Excellence in Education, education is essential to economic competitiveness. Throughout the report, it examines the performance of American children as compared to the performance of students from



other industrialized nations. In the recommendations, the report emphasizes holding schools accountable for their results. Comparisons rely on standardized achievement tests as the way to compare students across schools. Presidents Bush and Clinton both proposed implementing national standardized tests to enable such comparisons across states. However, using standardized test scores as a means of measuring academic success is not without controversy. Many education scholars argue that traditional achievement tests are culturally and racially biased. Overall, upper and middle-class whites perform better on IQ and other standardized tests than do the poor, blacks, and other minorities. Also, males traditionally score better than females. Kenneth Meier and his colleagues argue that this is not simply a function of other factors; rather, the test itself is geared towards white students: "[Cjlassification tests are based on a statistical model that 'institutionalizes the culture of the Anglo-American as the single monocultural framework of reference for 'normal.'"^^ The exact source of the bias is not known—some argue that it results from test items, and some say it is a function ofthe testing process. But either way, any cultural bias the tests may hold can have devastating results for minority students since these tests are used for admissions decisions at most colleges and universities. And even before that, they are used by teachers to group students based on their perceived academic ability. A Nation at Risk proposes that "placement and grouping of students, as well as promotion and graduation policies, should be guided by the academic progress of students and their instructional needs, rather than by rigid adherence to age."~' The grouping of students based on ability is not a new concept. In elementary schools it is employed mainly within grades/classrooms, and in later grades it is sometimes used across grades and ages, with mixed results. A Nation at Risk also endorsed tracking, a related practice wherein students follow different "tracks" based on their different abilities, which prepare them for after high school plans, be they college, vocational school, or work. The effects of ability grouping and tracking are a source of controversy among educators and education policy specialists. The basic reasoning behind ability grouping is that students will learn better v^hen surrounded by other students of similar ability. Many studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of ability grouping.^^ The only consensus is that there is no clear consensus: The results differ in certain specifics, but one conclusion emerges clearly: no group of
students has been found to benefit consistently from being in a homogenous group. A few

of the studies show that those students identified as the brightest learn more when they are taught in a group of their peers, and provided an enriched cirriculum [sic]. However, most do not. Some studies have found that the learning of students identified as being average or low, has not been harmed by their placement in homogenous groups. However, many studies have found the learning of average and slow students to be negatively affected by homogeneous placements.''^



Though the effect of ability grouping is not clear on students' abuity to learn, the effect on the segregation and integration of schools is quite clear. Lower class and minority students are placed in lower-track classrooms in significantly higher percentages. According to Meier and his associates, "A black student is nearly 3 times more likely to be placed in a class for the mentally retarded than is a white student.... A white student is 3.2 times more likely to be assigned to a gifted class than is a black student."^"^ Whether the discrimination is intentional, or simply institutional, the effects are disastrous for equality of education. The result is de facto segregation and unequal educational and economic opportunities for minority students. As Meier and his associates note, "Racial biases in special education, ability grouping, curriculum tracking, and discipline have replaced segregation as the single greatest obstacle to equal educational opportunities."^^ Ability grouping and tracking can make the historic decision in Brown v. Board of little or no effect. The segregation of students would likely become even more extreme if "school choice" policies are implemented extensively. The basic assumption behind the school choice model is that as parents choose among the good schools, market dynamics wül result in schools either improving or shutting down.^^ In the end, only quality schools that provide excellence in education will survive. The problem with this model is that not aU students wOl have the ability to move fi'om school to school. Even with the presence of vouchers, many socioeconomically disadvantaged students wiU be unable to overcome both the information and transportation costs necessary to switch to the better schools. As this happens, the good schools will indeed get better; however, many of the poor (in both senses of the word) schools will just get poorer: School choice holds the potential to construct a system thatfinanciallypunishes weak educational institutions, thus exacerbating the already considerable problems of schools attempting to educate a socioeconomically disadvantaged, predominantly minority, portion of the nation's student population.^'' The end result wül be harmfiil to efforts to extend universal access to education—a major goal of education in the United States since Brown v. Board. There is a trade-off between competition and equality. The evidence of this can be seen in one of the original findings of the National Commission on Excellence in Education: It is important, of course, to recognize that the average citizen today is better educated and more knowledgeable than the average citizen of a generation ago Nevertheless, the average graduate of our schools and colleges today is not as well-educated as the average graduate of 25 or 35 years ago, when a much smaller proportion of our population completed high school and college. ^^



Through extending education to more citizens, the nation made great gains in expanding economic and political capital as well. Yet, the more we subscribe to free market ideology in education, the more we risk increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, intellectually, economically, and politically. As a society, we need to take this trade-off into consideration when deciding what is best for the schools and the nation as a whole.

Impact on Society
The quality of education individuals receive has direct bearing on the rest of their lives. As a result, the type of educational system the country adopts has significant infiuence on our entire society. The tension found between competition and equality is refiective of the tension between individualism and communitarian ideals in American culture that Bellah and colleagues note in Habits of the HeartP The conflict between Americans' sense of individualism and belief in community values and civic virtue can actually serve a balancing function. Sometimes the fiercely competitive spirit is overcome by a sense of republicanism, wherein people focus on what is good for the community, whether that be defined as township, state, nation, or world. We must maintain a balance between the two. Subscribing too absolutely to individualism and competition results in declines in social capital and a "crisis of civic membership." Intense individualism can lead to a disengagement from society—people who are no longer members of the civic community. As people withdraw from active involvement in society, social capital—defined as societal norms and functions, such as associational membership and public trust "that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefits,"—declines.^'^ A decline in social capital and limited civic membership leads to a decline in the political participation necessary for the functioning of a democracy. Bellah and associates argue that a sense of community and civic responsibility is necessary to solve any crisis in our society, economic or otherwise: But to imagine that problems arising from failures rooted in the structure of our economy and polity can primarily be traced to the failings of individuals with inadequate family values seems to us sadly mistaken. It not only increases the level of individual guilt, it also distracts attention from larger failures of collective responsibility.^^ By placing much of the blame and responsibility for education on the individuals in American society, A Nation at Risk makes the mistake about which Habits of the Heart Warns. The focus on education solely as a means to economic competition disregards how important educational equality and universal access are to the community as a whole. The emphasis on individual effort and success neglects the importance of training students to be citizens and not just employees.




A Nation at Risk clearly laid out a blueprint for reform. It was this very fact that made it a rhetorical document. The language we use to talk about issues structures how we understand those issues; and the way we define and understand issues structures the policies we enact regarding those issues. The National Commission on Excellence in Education was given the opportunity to merge the policy streams and change the way one central issue was defined and acted on. Their report profoundly infiuenced—and continues to infiuence—the structure of education reform discourse and proposed solutions. By defining education as an economic tool used mainly to the benefit of the individual, A Nation at Risk led to proposed solutions that also focused on economic benefit and individual responsibility. The resulting policy proposals could severely hinder educational equality and undermine the educational experience of minorities. The commission viewed education as a means to economic competition rather than a means toward economic and political equality. In short, individualism triumphed over community. By uncritically embracing A Nation at Risk, we, in fact, become just that—a nation at risk of losing the emphases on equal access and active citizenship that are so vital to a democracy.
1. Margaret J. Marshall, Contesting Cultural Rhetorics: Public Discourse and Education, 1890-1900 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995), 210. 2. All politicians are for improving education, because in the abstract, everyone wins. Education in and of itself is not a zero-sum game. The knowledge supply is flexible. My increased knowledge does not mean that you must learn less. However, in Agendas and Instability in American Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones note that valence issues often run into conflict when it becomes time to assign a solution to a problem. What exactly should we do to improve public schools? When education policy becomes more tangible, especially in the form of affirmative action, school finance, or links to economic gain, it enters the world of zero-sum politics and conflict is inevitable. In general, parents are not eager to sacrifice their tax money or their child's future economic success for the sake of equity. For a discussion of the impact of zero-sum thinking on economic policy, see Lester C. Thurow, Zero-Sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change (New York: Penguin Books, 1980). 3. Marshall, Contesting Cultural Rhetorics, 23. 4. Edward B. Fiske, "George Bush as the Education President," in The Presidency and Education., vol. 1, ed. Kenneth W. Thompson (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1990), 124. 5. Fiske, "George Bush as the Education President," 125. 6. Fiske, "George Bush as the Education President," 126. 7. Janet Kerr-Tener, "Presidential Politics and Educational Commissions," in Tlie Presidency and Education vol. 1> ed. Kenneth W. Thompson, 86.



8. Patricia Albjerg Graham, "The Presidenq^ and the Public School System," in The Presidency and Education, vol. 1, ed. Kenneth W. Thompson, 46. 9. "Excerpts from the Report on Excellence in Education," New York Times, April 27,1983, B6:l; and "Rising Tide of Mediocrity Threatens Our Very Future as a Nation," Washington Post, April 27,1983, AlO. 10. Kurt Martin Senske, "A Case Study of the Impact of Presidential Rlietoric on State and Local Public Policy Reform" (Ph.D. diss.. University of Texas, 1996), 43-44. 11. For example, Edward B. Fiske, "Problem for Education," New York Times, April 28,1983, B 15:1; and "The Politics of Education," Washington Post, lune 2, 1983, A20. 12. David Tyack and Larry Cuban, Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 78. 13. Richard W. Riley, "Turning the Corner: From a Nation at Risk to a Nation with a Future," Vital Speeches of the Day 6\ (1995): 344-48. 14. David Flitner, Ir., 77ie Politics of Presidential Commissions: A Public Policy Perspective (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Transnational Publishers, 1986), 7. 15. Flitner, The Politics of Presidential Commissions, 7; see also Kerr-Tener, "Presidential Politics and Educational Commissions," 84. 16. Terrence R. Tutchings, Rhetoric and Reality: Presidential Commissions and the Making of Public Policy (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1979), 9-13. 17. Flitner, Tlie Politics of Presidential Commissions, 19. 18. Flitner, Vie Politics of Presidential Commissions, 155. 19. Flitner, Tlie Politics of Presidential Commissions, 155. 20. Flitner, Vie Politics of Presidential Commissions, 157. 21. Tutchings, Rhetoric and Reality, 11. 11. Flitner, The Politics of Presidential Commissions, 160-61. 23. Flitner, Tlie Politics of Presidential Commissions, 164. 24. Kerr-Tener, "Presidential Politics and Educational Commissions," 85. 25. Oscar H. Gandy, Beyond Agenda Setting: Information Subsidies and Public Policy (Norwood, N.I.: Ablex Publishing Company, 1982), 135-36. 26. Flitner, The Politics of Presidential Commissions, 167. 27. Scranton Commission, quoted in Flitner, The Politics of Presidential Commissions, 166-67. 28. "Members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education," in The National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: Tlie Imperative for Educational Reform (Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1983), iv-v. 29. Kerr-Tener, "Presidential Politics and Educational Commissions," 84. 30. Sandra L. Hunt and Ann Q. Staton, "The Communication of Educational Reform: A Nation at Risk,"Communication Education 45 (1996): 271. 31. John W. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policy, 2"^* ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 3. 32. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policy, 3. 33. Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones, Agendas and Instability in American Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993). 34. Chaim Perelman, Tlie Realm of Rhetoric (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), 35.



35. John W. Kingdon, "Agendas, Ideas, and Policy Change," in New Perspectives on American Politics, ed. Lawrence C. Dodd and Calvin Jillson (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1994), 218. 36. Perelman, The Realm of Rhetoric, 40. 37. Kenneth Burke, "Terministic Screens," Language as Symbolic Action (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966), 45, 46. 38. The National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: Tlte Imperative for Educational Reform (Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1983). 39. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 3. 40. Michael Osborn, "Patterns of Metaphor Among Early Feminist Orators," in Rhetoric and Community: Studies in Unity and Fragmentation, ed. J. Michael Hogan (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998), 3. 41. Robert L. Ivie's work confirms the significance of war metaphors in post-World War II America. Ivie asserts that the guiding motive of "national peril" behind our Cold War activities was created and maintained largely through metaphor. See "Cold War Motives and the Rhetorical Metaphor: A Framework of Criticism," in Cold War Rhetoric: Strategy, Metaphor, and Ideology, by Martin J. Medhurst, Robert L. Ivie, Philip Wander, and Robert L. Scott (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1997), 71-79. 42. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 5-17, emphasis added. 43. James Arnt Aune, Selling the Free Market: The Rhetoric of Economic Correctness (New York: Guilford Press, 2000). 44. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 6. 45. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 14. 46. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 7-17, emphasis added. 47. Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton, "The House Divided," Introduction to the Updated Edition of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), vii-viii. 48. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 7-15, emphasis added. 49. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 20. 50. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 22-27, emphasis added. 51. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 22-31. 52. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 24-30, emphasis added. 53. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 28-36. 54. The popularity of school choice initiatives was part of a larger movement for the deregulation of the economy. School organization historically follows greater societal trends. David Tyack chronicles the centralization and bureaucratization of the school system, which corresponded to the centralization and bureaucratization of the larger economy during industrialization, in The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974). The more recent move toward deregulation and privatization in the broader economy is analyzed in Robert Kuttner, Everything For Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996). 55. Fiske, "Problem for Education," B: 15-1 56. Denise M. Bostdorff, Tlie Presidency and the Rhetoric of Foreign Crisis (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994).



57. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 5. 58. Senske, "A Case Study of the Impact of Presidential Rhetoric on State and Local Public Policy Reform," 50. 59. Kerr-Tener, "Presidential Politics and Educational Commissions," 86. 60. Mario Cuomo, The New York Idea: An Experiment in Democracy (New York: Crown Publishers, 1994). 61. David E. Purpel and Svi Shapiro, Beyond Liberation and Excellence: Reconstructing the Public Discourse on Education (Weslport, Conn.: Bergin and Garvey, 1995), 4-6. 62. George H. W. Bush, "Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy," April 18,1991, Public Papers of the President, available at, emphasis added. 63. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, "The German Ideology," in Collected Works, Vol. 3 (New York: The Guilford Press, 1975), as quoted in Aune, Selling the Free Market. 64. This and other quotes from the 1999 State of the Union address come from William Jefferson Clinton, "State of the Union," January 19, 1999. Obtained from 65. Tyâck, Tlte One Best System, 1-12. 66. Kerr-Tener, "Presidential Politics and Educational Commissions," 82. 67. Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),"in Essays on Ideology (London: Verso, 1984), 6. 68. Erancis Keppel, "The Presidency and Education: Erom Washington to Johnson," in The Presidency and Education, vol. 1, ed. Kenneth W. Thompson, 6-8. 69. Brown et al. v. Board of Education ofTopeka, 347 U.S. 483, 492-93 (1954). 70. Kenneth J. Meier, Joseph Stewart, Jr., and Robert E. England, Race, Class, and Education: The Politics of Second Generation Discrimiitation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 25. 71. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 30. 72. A quick search of any educational article database will reveal studies with a variety of findings. The data/studies have been summarized by more than one scholar. Two books which analyze the results of previous studies are: Jeannie Oakes, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985); and Meier, et al.. Race, Class attd Education. 73. Oakes, Keeping Track, 7. 74. Meier, et al.. Race, Class and Education, 5. 75. Meier, et al.. Race, Class and Education, 4. 76. References to competition and free market ideology refer to the push that began in the 1970s for greater deregulation and privatization of the economy. The basic argument is that markets are always better and more efficient. What these proponents often fail to consider are the negative externalities that come along with marketization. Along with the problems noted here with school choice initiatives, critics of the recent turn cite negative effects on the general welfare (ex: child labor before the push for more regulation), the risk of monopolies (current ex: Microsoft), and a feared "race to the bottom" by the states in providing costly services for their residents (ex: welfare). Eor a good summary and critique of the decentralization arguments, see James Amt Aune, Selling the Free Market; Kuttner, Everything Eor Sale; and Paul Peterson, The Price of Federalism (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute, 1995). A good critique of the assumptions behind the market debate in education policy is an as-yet-unpublished book by political scientist Kevin B. Smith of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, The Ideology of Education: The Commonwealth, The Market, and America's Schools.



77. Kevin B. Smith and Kenneth J. Meier, The Case Against School Choice: Politics, Markets, and Fools (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), 27-28. 78. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, 11. 79. Bellah, Habits of the Heart, 1996. 80. Robert D. Putnam, "The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life," American Prospect 13 (Spring 1993): 35, quoted in Bellah, et al., "A House Divided," xvi. 81. Bellah et al., "A House Divided," xxii.

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