A Nation at Risk
National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). This seminal study is still relevant today. It summarized the sad state of U.S. education saying: “Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. . . . [T]he 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. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre education performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. . . . We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” (p.5)
The study caused great concern and set off a wave of reforms. However, many of the reforms suggested have not been enacted. A key reform that has been resisted is providing merit pay for teachers, with higher pay to attract and retain better teachers, and master teachers to guide young teachers, provide consistency and provide a career path. The desire of teachers to be independent and the teacher unions fighting to preserve the existing seniority and tenure systems have thwarted such reforms.
The following is a summary of the recommendations from A Nation at Risk:
A: Content. Higher requirements for high school graduation, with specified requirements for English, math, science, social studies, computer science, and foreign language (starting in the elementary grades).
B: Standards and Expectations. Standardized tests, higher admission standards for college, more challenging materials in textbooks.
C: Time. A longer school day or year, more homework, work skills instruction in the early grades. More administrative help for teachers, special classes for disruptive students, promotion and graduation based on academic progress, not age.
D: Teaching. (1) High competence standards, (2) higher and performance based salaries, (3) 11 month teaching year, (4) career ladders -beginning instructor, experienced teacher, and master teacher, (5) non school personnel for immediate shortage of mathematics and science teachers, (6) Incentives to attract outstanding students to the teaching profession, and (7) Use master teachers who design teacher preparation programs and supervise teachers.
E: Leadership and Fiscal Support. Government should provide the leadership and money to implement the recommendations.