During the twentieth century, the United States was a world leader in raising the educational attainment of its population. This important achievement contributed to national productivity growth and extended economic opportunity to formerly disadvantaged groups in society. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, U.S. institutions of higher learning retain an excellent reputation for quality. Less confidence exists, however, in the educational system’s ability to meet broad economic and social objectives adequately. This uncertainty stems in part from the shifting global economy and the evolving nature of employment. These doubts also reflect the legacy of widening income inequality over the past quarter century. These concerns have sparked both federal and state legislation to reform elementary and secondary schooling.
In June 2002, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston held its 47th annual conference, titled “Education in the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of a Changing World.” This conference brought together educators, researchers, economists, policymakers, and individuals from the private sector to analyze current institutional and financial arrangements in the area of education. In this article, conference organizer Yolanda Kodrzycki provides an overview of the conference’s themes and areas of consensus, as well as a synopsis of each of the formal presentations.