After 30 years, still at risk?

Thirty years ago, the Nation At Risk report warned that “a rising tide of mediocrity” –– low educational standards — “threatens our very future as a nation and a people.”

High schools pushed students to take more rigorous college-prep courses. Students now earn significantly more science and math credits, notes the Washington Post.

Other recommendations, such as extending the school year to 220 days and paying teachers for 11 months of work, were ignored.

A Nation At Risk kicked off the education reform movement

Where Are We Now? asks Education Week.

Rigor is the answer writes Core Knowledge’s Lisa Hansel on the Shanker Blog. “Progressive educators’ misunderstandings of the essential role of specific, relevant knowledge in reading comprehension and critical thinking resulted in weak curricula being the norm and pockets of excellence typically being reserved for our most advantaged youth,’she writes.

Here’s an analysis from Fordham and the American Enterprise Institute:


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  1. 30 years later and TRILLIONS down the drain for ZERO gain!

    The only thing that has gained is the Department of Education BUREAUCRACY and the BUREAUCRACY at EVERY level. Oh, let’s not forget the ‘education’ publishers who have stuffed themselves on this golden egg laying goose.

    YES, let’s throw more $$$$ away, NOT!!!

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    “A Nation At Risk kicked off the education reform movement…”


    overstates things a bit.


    The US has been dealing with education reform (and complaining about the quality of US education/students) since before the early 1980s:


    1918: The Commission of the Reorganization of Secondary Education issues their “Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education” report. It suggests 7 main objectives of education. Only one was academic 🙂
    1943: New York Times runs an article titled “Ignorance of U.S. History Shown by College Freshmen”
    1955: Rudolf Flesch publishes “Why Johnny Can’t Read”
    1958: Life Magazine runs 5-part series “A Crisis in Education.” We are worrying about how the Russians will win because their students are so good and ours aren’t. In the 1980s we do this all over again with Japan. Now we are doing it with China.
    1960’s: New Math is introduced
    1983: Finally, we get to “A Nation at Risk”


    But we have been reforming K-12 education for at least 100 years.

  3. I’d put the date at 1991 with the opening of the first charter school. “Reform” up until then consisted of increasing funding and not much else.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      Oh, no!


      Going from phonics (1920s – 1930s) to whole word (1950s Dick and Jane) to whole language (1980s) as approaches to teach reading wasn’t just (or even primarily) about increased funding.


      Ditto for new math in the 1960s.


      The US has a long track record of trying *VERY* new teaching approaches for very basic subjects (reading, math) with very poor measuring of effectiveness and without starting small and scaling up (while measuring during the scale up).

      • I’d put whole language in its various guises, as well as new math, in the “and not much else” category since they were the product of edu-philosopher kings who had no slightest expectation that they’d be held responsible for the failure of their cutting-edgery.

        In the end both, and all the rest of the panoply of edu-crap, have sucked up substantial funding in an effort to stem the inevitable realization that it was just more edu-crap. Charters were the first break with the district model and as such the first charter’s opening date is the watershed event in the reform of public education.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    I get the impression from the tone of the article that this is supposed to be news.

  5. The tide has already washed us over, leaving little left, like a big tsunami.

    Though you guys are right, there have been debates about K-12 education since the mid-1800’s, when public schools were established for the first time.

    Which brings up the question: How did the HUGE irony of the U.S. having the worst K-12 schools in the developed world, but the best colleges & universities in the developed world, come about? It’s kind of a major paradox, don’t you think?