Since the seminal federal study “A Nation at Risk” launched the modern educational-reform movement in 1983, America’s K-12 schools have faced persistent pressure for greater accountability and improved results. The reforms have been imperfect and the outcomes uneven, but the irreversible direction has been toward stiffening both expectations and consequences for what students achieve from elementary grades through high school.
Over these stormy decades of “education wars,” the nation’s colleges and universities almost completely escaped similar scrutiny. “When it comes to higher education, we are really 25 years behind K-12 education, at least in accountability,” says Michael Dannenberg, higher-education director at the Education Trust, which advocates for low-income children.
But now, the accountability revolution that reshaped K-12 is reaching critical mass for the cap-and-gown set. From President Obama and governors such as California’s Jerry Brown to leading foundations and educators, more voices are insisting that postsecondary schools confront the intertwined problems of rising tuition, exploding student debt, and disappointing completion rates. “People are realizing, we [need] some way to get … more bang for our buck,” said Tom Kane, a Harvard professor of education and economics who advised a coalition of prominent educators and foundations that recently issued a reform blueprint called “The American Dream 2.0.” (National Journal)