A Nation at Risk Report – 30 years later….

July 1, 2013

In 1983, American President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its report A Nation at Risk.  Secretary of Education T. H. Bell created the National Commission “directing it to examine the quality of education in the United States and to make a report to the Nation and to him”.  Everyone agrees that this report made history in American education, raised awareness of weaknesses in the American education system, and started many reforms from the local to national level.

We should all (re)read the report.  With bolding added by me it began:

“Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry,

science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the

world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the

problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We

report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our

schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United

States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are

presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a

Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–

others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.


“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre

educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of

war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even

squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik

challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped

make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking,

unilateral educational disarmament.


“Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them.

“This report, the result of 18 months of study, seeks to generate reform of our

educational system in fundamental ways and to renew the Nation’s commitment to

schools and colleges of high quality throughout the length and breadth of our land.”

Thirty years later, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute prepared a video compilation A Nation at Risk: Thirty Years Later, that recalls “the impact of A Nation at Risk these past three decades and to reflect on what lies ahead.”

I commend it to you.  When the report was issued 30 years ago, it was big news and it is still big news.  It bears re-reading.  As the Fordham Institute says, “Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results…. Due in large part to this report, we now judge a school by whether its students are learning rather than how much money is going into it, what its programs look like, or its earnest intentions. Education reform today is serious about standards, quality, assessment, accountability and benchmarking—by school, district, state and nation. This is new since 1983 and it’s very important.”

I am sorry to say that our nation is still at risk.  In my blogs, I’ve also shared the good news about the shifts from old factory-model schools to new proficiency-based schools.  Reading (or re-reading) this report just makes it clear we still have a lot of work to do to address the factors that put us at risk.
Posted by marks on Monday July 1, 2013 at 10:44AM

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