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A Look Back at 'A Nation at Risk' Report

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Thirty years ago today, a report rocked the world of American education—and anyone who cares about it. Called "A Nation at Risk," the report was issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, and it identified vulnerabilities in students' K-12 preparation for careers and college.

Today, parents can examine the statistics from 1983 and see what's different, and what's not, in an Education Week article and infographic. Scroll to the end of this piece, and you can read a divergence of opinion about exactly what the selected statistics mean to some of our readers.

When it was released, the "Nation at Risk" report indicated that "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."

Controversial then, and perhaps no less controversial now, the report got people talking about what's wrong with education in the U.S. Its findings became the basis of the standards movement, with a focus on measuring everything educational.

Education Week also asked five thought leaders in the world of education to weigh in on what kind of progress we have made as a nation, and where work needs to be done. The commentaries are:


  • "Gaps Persist 30 Years After a Wake-Up Call," by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and chair of the newly created President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

  • "Putting Emphasis on Teacher Quality" by Laura Goe, a research scientist at Educational Testing Service, and senior research and technical assistance expert for the federally funded Center for Great Teachers and Leaders. She is also a former middle school teacher.

  • "Doubling Down on Testing is a Failed Wager," by Luis Huerta, an associate professor of education and public policy at Teachers College, Columbia University.

  • "Three Decades of Lies," by David C. Berliner, Regents' Professor Emeritus at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College of Arizona State University. His interests are in the study of teaching and general educational policy. He is the author, with Bruce J. Biddle, of The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools.

  • "We've Made Progress, But There's More to Do," by Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the chairman of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on K-12 education, and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education.

Read the full, original report here. What do you think about how "A Nation at Risk" plays out today?

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