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REFLECTIONS ON A NATION AT RISK: Issues that Resonate Twenty-five Years Later

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“The Federal Government has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education."

April 26 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of A Nation at Risk, issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The commission, appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education T. H. Bell, and its report have been credited with helping to shift the Reagan administration’s thinking about the wisdom of cutting education spending, which—along with abolishing the U.S. Department of Education—President Reagan was pushing for at the time of the report’s release.

A Nation at Risk sounded a strong alarm. It reads in part:

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, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

In last month’s release event for Democracy at Risk (see Democracy at Risk), Milton Goldberg, the former staff director for the Commission on Excellence in Education, said that the report was specifically written to get the public’s attention. He noted that many Sunday newspapers printed the entire report. In addition to pointing out the problems in education, the report gained “blockbuster” status, he said, by proposing five commonplace recommendations: a required core curriculum for all students, higher standards and expectations for all students, improved teacher preparation, time adjustments in schools to make reforms possible, and holding educators and elected officials responsible for providing the leadership necessary to achieve these reforms.

Quoting from A Nation at Risk, Goldberg noted the strong emphasis placed by the commission on the importance of federal leadership. “The Federal Government has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education. It should also help fund and support efforts to protect and promote that interest. It must provide the national leadership to ensure that the Nation’s public and private resources are marshaled to address the issues discussed in this report.” He noted that many of the issues discussed in the report are still issues today.

Audio of Goldberg’s remarks is available at http://www.forumforeducation.org/upload_files/files/pvforum_educationdemocracy.mp3.

Read A Nation at Risk at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/index.html.

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