Spring 2003 / Vol. 3, No. 2
Assessments of the state of American education on the 20th anniversary of the A Nation at Risk report
Lincoln taught himself the three R’s and more
School Choice Tradeoffs: Liberty, Equity, and Diversity by By R. Kenneth Godwin and Frank R. Kemerer University of Texas Press, 2002, $29.95; 315 pages. America lacks a theory that would explain how its current system of public schooling could function at an acceptable level. Such a theory would describe how the several components of schooling finances, administration, curriculum, teaching, [...]
Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt by Raffaella Cribiore Princeton University Press, 2001, $39.50; 288 pages. In Rome, toward the end of the 1st century C.E., Quintus Sulpicius Maximus, an 11-year-old boy, won honorable mention in a poetry contest by improvising some 43 verses in ancient Greek on a mythological [...]
The AFT responds The American Federation of Teachers’ report Do Charter Schools Measure Up? has been sharply criticized by special-interest groups advocating on behalf of charter schools. In “Lobbying in Disguise” (Check the Facts, Winter 2003), Robert Maranto joins this discordant chorus. But Maranto and the AFT agree on a number of points: • Charter [...]
In 1983, a blue-ribbon education commission appointed by Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of Education, Terrel H. Bell, announced that America’s “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.” In its report, A Nation at Risk, the National Commission [...]
Increased economic growth, fueled by improvements in student performance, might have funded the nation’s entire K–12 education budget by now
Photograph by Stephanie Kuykendal. A Nation at Risk‘s most fatal flaw was its faith in the American education system’s ability to act on its recommendations. The authors of Risk believed that the system was mainly in need of internal reforms: tougher coursework and graduation requirements, higher and more flexible salaries for teachers, a longer school [...]
Illustration by Stuart Bradford. A Nation at Risk foreshadowed the modern accountability movement. While the word “accountability” never appears in Risk, its call for higher academic standards and its focus on student achievement as the main barometer of quality laid the intellectual groundwork for the rigorous curricula and tests envisioned by the promoters of standards-based [...]
The effort to push underprepared students into academic courses has driven the rigor out of many textbooks and classrooms
A Nation at Risk emphasized the importance of learning so-called “higher-order skills” in the early grades. But even chess grand masters need to learn the basics first.
The authors of A Nation at Risk recognized a fundamental truth of education: that reforms, if they are to be successful, must reach into education’s inner sanctum, the classroom.
Why the status quo almost always wins
Minority students are becoming increasingly concentrated in urban school districts. During the 1990-91 school year, 40 of the 57 districts that are members of the Council of the Great City Schools reported student populations in which minority students composed the majority. By the 1997-98 school year, the number had risen to 46 districts. Though there [...]
The core of A Nation at Risk was its concern that America’s public schools were not challenging enough to prepare students for a future built on technology and information.
In the wake of A Nation at Risk, educators pledged to focus anew on student achievement. Two decades later, little progress has been made
“Education reforms are useless unless our kids take responsibility for their education,” legendary union leader Albert Shanker wrote a decade ago.
A Nation at Risk was an historic document—for its time. Now we know that while its findings were dead on, its reform agenda relied too much on the existing system
Choice, accountability, and transparency will mean little without a new generation of school-based leaders to light the way
“It is high time that we commit the full resources required to improve every school in America, so that every child is at grade level or above”
It will take prolonged effort and more than just school reforms to boost student achievement
That the nation is still debating—and has yet to address—many of the issues raised by A Nation at Risk is a testament to its prescience
Students do no more homework today than they did 20 years ago, despite the recommendations of A Nation at Risk.
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