New Evidence on the Origins of American Education Reform

Paul Heideman


Educational policy in the United States has undergone a wrenching transformation in the past few decades. It has culminated in an all-out assault on public education, advanced through channels as diverse as privatization, deskilling of teachers, and a frightening new authoritarianism in the classroom. While commentary abounds on the various horrors of this new policy regime, its origins are still poorly understood. Its ascent is ascribed variously to a nebulous neoliberal ideology, the ascent of Reaganism, a desire to break the teachers unions, or the simple pillage of one of the United States' few encompassing public institutions.

Drawing on a new dataset of the early wave of educational reform in the late 1970s and early 1980s, this paper systematically investigates the relationship between socioeconomic changes in the American states in these years and their adoptions of reform policies. In particular, it examines the relationship between the devolution of economic policy from the federal to the state level that was occurring in these years, and its relationship with the ascent of education reform as a tool of economic competitiveness.

education - political economy - privatisation - neoliberalism - Neoliberalism - Education - Political economy - United States