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American Dream and Public Schools$
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Jennifer L. Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195152784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195152784.001.0001

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Public Schools in the New America

Public Schools in the New America

(p.191) 8 Public Schools in the New America
American Dream and Public Schools

Jennifer L. Hochschild

Nathan Scovronick

Oxford University Press

THE LANDSCAPE OF PUBLIC SCHOOLING in the United States has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, in part because of substantial movement toward the collective goals of education. Schools are more racially integrated than before Brown v. Board of Education; desegregation continues to contribute to the growth of the black middle class. Levels of school funding are higher than a generation ago, and in many states funding is more equitable across districts. Children with severe disabilities spend more of their days in the mainstream; children with subtle learning problems are increasingly identified and helped; parents have the legal right either to challenge the separation of children with disabilities or to demand special services for them. Most English language learners get at least some help in making the transition to English-speaking classes. Dropout rates have declined for whites and for blacks (although not for Hispanics). NAEP scores are higher in many subjects in most grades, with the greatest gains being made by black students. Most states have adopted standards and are developing curricula and professional development programs to bring those standards into the classroom; some states have shown demonstrable improvement in student learning as a consequence. Schools are increasingly sensitive to students from varied religious and ethnic backgrounds, and curricula are more multicultural. Ability grouping is more flexible than it used to be, more students have access to Advanced Placement classes, more take a reasonably demanding curricula, and more attend college. Through it all, despite concerns and disagreements, Americans have sustained their commitment to public schooling. While conflicts over education policy remain serious and policy irrationality persists, policy and practice have changed in ways that bring the ideology of the American dream closer to reality. These developments took place mostly in a context of economic stability (or even great prosperity) that made it relatively easy to dedicate more resources to public education. Broader political, social, and demographic developments, beginning with civil rights protests, also strongly affected them. Yet schools would not have moved toward greater quality, equality, and inclusiveness unless enough Americans believed deeply in the American dream and expected public education to foster the institutions and practices needed both to promote the pursuit of individual dreams and to keep democracy vital.

Keywords:   baby boomers, competitive success, democratic control, education policy, finance reform, immigrants, justice, magnet schools, non-Anglo students

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