filter back to the schools. Also, students often had part-time or summer jobs that reflected the industrial workplace, so some level of speedy feedback from workplaces to schools was possible. And everyone understood the basic work situation.
If, as a society, we all know that jobs are designed to be learned quickly and then executed in an environment of close supervision, the needs for schooling for this can be quite clear. Students need to be able to stick to a task; work efficiently; read, write, speak, and listen well enough to receive directions and report outcomes and problems; and do arithmetic well enough to receive and produce basic quality and process management data. Teachers needed to work during the summer to make ends meet, so they experienced the workplace firsthand, and parents also knew what work was about and what it would be about when their children entered the work force. Or so everyone thought.
As we gained national resolve to be a fairer and more open society, schools faced new demands, and some of our beliefs about the content of schooling and about where learning happens were called into question. We began to wonder how much of the successful performance of a worker was due to what was learned in school and how much to what was learned in everyday life, especially life in families that were already part of the so-called American dream. We also began to wonder whether we had confused necessary content and necessary teaching process with culture-specific practices that might be barriers to some students' educations.
As the workplace evolved away from the form in which most people, including school people, understood it, and as school populations became more culturally diverse, informal relationships between schooling and the workplace needed to be codified into explicit standards. In the short run this led to a variety of degree requirements for jobs, requirements that were not always defensible when challenged. However, in the early stages of the period of diversification of both work and the population, these standards were accepted, and a variety of mechanisms arose to help children "pass" through the ranks of schooling. Especially on the education side of the school-to-work system, either standards that were indefensible were eliminated or else mechanisms arose to assure they were no longer significant barriers to disadvantaged and minority workers. This worked as long as the output of the schools was generally good enough for the adult roles to which we aspired for ourselves or our children. The emergence of the standards movement in recent years is an indication that schooling's output may not have kept up with workplace needs.
Work evolved while schooling was evolving, initially at a relatively slow pace. So the first demands for "smarter" workers were met by establishing more stringent schooling requirements for employment and perhaps adding more focused technical testing as well. This worked for a while, though never all that