What Is Educational Reform? - Issues & Timeline

Instructor: Marquis Grant

Marquis has a Doctor of Education degree.

Education reform has transformed schools in the United States from rigid institutions to diverse learning environments designed to meet the needs of all learners. Learn about some of the events that shaped this transformation and take a quiz to test your knowledge.


Historically, education in America was designed for those children from the most affluent families. It gave little regard to the academic advancement of children of certain racial or culturally diverse groups, children from the poorest communities or children with disabilities. As time passed, policymakers and educators began to realize the need for more inclusive measures for educating all children -- regardless of the color of their skin, where they lived or disabilities that impeded their learning.

Over the course of the 20th century, the educational system in America faced several issues that forced it to reform. The changes could be painstaking, and sometimes they took many years to 'get it right.' Read a timeline of some of the most important events in educational reform below.

Historical Implications

Brown vs. Board of Education (1954)

The Brown v. Board of Education case brought to light the serious inequalities that existed in American schools, including quality of resources, teachers, building structure and transportation for African American and other students of color. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 'separate but equal' theory was unconstitutional because it still created a great divide between the haves and the have nots based on culture, race and socioeconomic status. Additional support for anti-discrimination laws and policies was given through the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960 and 1964.

Bilingual Education Act (1968)

Congress enacted the Bilingual Education Act (Title VII) in order for schools to provide bilingual education for culturally and linguistically diverse students. As a result of the act, the term Limited English Proficiency became part of the academic setting in reference to students who lived in homes in which English was not the primary language.

Prior to the passage of the federal mandate, individual states had passed legislation that promoted bilingual education programs in their schools. Ohio passed such legislation in response to the heavy German population within the state. The bilingual education law in Ohio allowed parents to enroll their children in bilingual education programs where students were taught using both German and English instruction. Similar programs were implemented in additional states.

Bilingual education lost its appeal during the world wars, when anti-immigrant sentiments were on the rise and allegiance to American culture was endorsed. This sentiment lasted until the passage of the Bilingual Education Act. Recently, provisions of No Child Left Behind transferred responsibility for bilingual education from federal domain to the individual states.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997)

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 stated that children with disabilities were to be educated in their least restrictive environment (LRE). Later, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA) was authorized to ensure that students with disabilities had equitable access to the general education curriculum. Children could not be separated based solely on ability and had to be receive and appropriate education in their least restrictive environment.

Prior to the passage of these laws, many children with disabilities were placed in mental institutions, special schools or classrooms away from their non-disabled peers regardless of the nature of their disability, demonstrated ability levels or parent opposition. Advocates argued that such practices violated the civil rights of these children and forced them into academic settings that were not suitable for their learning needs.


No Child Left Behind (O.L. 107-110) (2002)

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sought to improve outcomes for children who were historically disadvantaged in academic settings, including minorities, children with disabilities, and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Targeted areas include: reading achievement, provisions for hiring highly qualified educators, allocation of funds, parent involvement and accountability measures.

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