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Still A Nation at Risk?
By David W. Kirkpatrick (May 01, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
Defenders of public schooling would have you believe that all criticism comes from "the far right," conservatives, those who are anti-school, anti-teacher, anti-teacher unions, taxpayers only concerned about costs, and the like. Some of this may be true, but there are at least two things wrong with such arguments.
First, they fail to deal with the validity of the criticism which may be true whatever the source. As has been pointed out, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
More seriously, however, is that such arguments tend to deflect attention from the research-backed criticism from within the educational establishment.
The most famous example is probably still "A Nation at Risk," issued in April of 1983, from which came such famous statements as that we were being engulfed by a rising tide of mediocrity, and if another nation did to us what we are doing to ourselves we would consider it an act of war.
Though lengthy, the list of members of the Commission is worth noting. They were: David Pierpont Gardner, president of the University of Utah, as chairman; Yvonne Larsen, San Diego School Board President, who was vice-chair; Dr. William O. Baker, the past president of Bell Labs; Dr. Bartlett Giamatti, president of Yale University; Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University in New Orleans; Dr. Shirley Gordon, president of Highline Community College in Seattle; Robert Haderlein, president of the National School Boards Association; Dr. Francisco Sanchez, Albuquerque, New Mexico school superintendent; Albert Quie, former Congressman and Governor of Minnesota; Jay Sommer, the 1981Teacher of the Year; Emeral Crosby, a Detroit high school principal; Richard Wallace, a Lutheran high school principal; Charles A. Foster, Jr., CEO of the Foundation for the Teaching of Economics; Dr. Anne Campbell, Nebraska Commissioner of Education; Mrs Margaret Marston, member of the Virginia State Board of Education; Mrs. Annette Kirk, a parent; Dr. Gerald Holton, Harvard University scientist; and Dr. Glenn Seaborg, a University of California Nobel Laureate.
This is hardly a group of anti-public school radicals.
Nor did the Commission decide things off the top of their heads, or on the basis of anecdotal evidence drawn from their personal experiences. Funding permitted the conducting of 40 studies upon which to base their conclusions.
In addition, five other national studies that same year documented problems in basic education. They, too, had establishment affiliations:
Action for Excellence, from the Education Commission of the States,
Academic Preparation for College, released by the College Board,
Making the Grade, from the Twentieth Century Fund,
America's Competitive Challenge, by the Business-Higher Education Forum, and
Educating Americans for the 21st Century, issued by the National Science Board.
Several years, trillions of dollars later, Congress, not known for anti-public school rhetoric or opposition to teacher unions, passed the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Another failure, with none of its goals realized, it was repealed in 2001. Largely overlooked, though included in the wording of the law, were the following findings of Congress:
"A majority of public schools in the United States are failing to prepare students to achieve the National Education Goals..."
"The current achievement levels of students in the United States are far below those that might indicate competency in challenging subject matter in core content areas."
"The rate of decline in our urban schools is escalating at a rapid pace. Student performance in most inner city schools grows worse each year ... An educational emergency exists in those urban and rural areas where there are large concentrations of children who live in poverty."
It's said that the public's memory is less than two years. The history of public schooling would seem to prove this to be so -- or that the public is very tolerant and forgiving. Every year there are studies, reports, and the like, detailing schooling's ongoing failures for millions of students. Dropouts total a million or more annually, depending on whose statistics you accept. Of the 50 million K-12 public school students, 30% may drop out and another 30% graduate without minimal skills.
Every year sees more studies, more promises of reform, and more pleas for more time and more money.
Time passes. The cycle repeats. Is there no end?
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"Efforts to preserve the school as it exists today are futile in my opinion...all the uneasy compromises simply dilute the educational process to the point where it is time-wasting for teacher and pupil alike.." Sydney Harris, syndicated columnist, p. 30, The Patriot, Harrisburg, PA, Jan. 12, 1975.
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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633