Here We Go Again! Another "Nation at Risk"
Last night while I was working in my room at school, I had the TV on and I flipped the channel to watch the CBS Evening News. Lucky me, I happened to catch this story that they called "All Children Left Behind."
CBS begins by telling us this: A bipartisan panel is warning that America's students are falling behind those in even some of the poorest countries, CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports. "I am really worried about where this country is," says ex-Sen. Bill Brock, a former Secretary of Labor. "We've got an information world, we're networked to the rest of the world, it's a global economy and we're not preparing our young people for that world."
Students from Asia to Europe outperform Americans on tests. Thirty years ago, the U.S. boasted 30 percent of the world's college students. That figure is now 14 percent. Meanwhile, most other industrialized nations educate their 16-year olds at a college level.
Emerging giants like India are churning out college graduates who often have more advanced skill sets than American graduates. Many go on to take U.S. jobs. "That is going to drive the standard of living down in the United States," says Commissioner Mark Tucker.
The commission recommends these sweeping changes in American education: Public schools would no longer be run by local districts. Instead, schools could be managed by groups of teachers or private companies. Teachers would need to pass rigorous assessments ... and be paid a lot more. All 4-year-olds and all low-income 3-year-olds would enroll in universal pre-K. Finally, high school students should be prepared to pass college-level board exams by age 16.
Okay, I'm not going to knock the concern expressed by this "Blue Ribbon" commission. I'm not even going to knock their recommendations for radical change in our educational system. But before we take them seriously, I think we are owed an explanation.
Twenty-three years ago we had another report from a "blue-ribbon" type commission on American education. That report was titled Nation at Risk, and it made what was a very insulting statement to those of us in public education: "If an unfriendly power had imposed our schools upon us, we would have regarded it as an act of war." "Our nation is at risk," the report stated. "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."
I think it's fair to say that the situation described by Nation at Risk was not one which had occurred over night. After all, test scores were not significantly worse than they had been in the 1960s. And, although I wish I could say that this wasn't the case, our test scores are not significantly better now than they were when Nation at Risk was published. That's at least fifty years of "mediocrity" threatening our very future as a nation.
Yet, here we are in 2006. We have a four percent unemployment rate, while many of those nations who are hammering us in those educational test scores have double digit unemployment. As I sit here typing this, Shepard Smith of Fox News is announcing that the Dow Jones is at a record high--the stock market is as good as it's ever been. Last week, I handed out this current event item to my students making it clear that the United States is the richest country in the world. I think it's fair to say that according to the dire proclamations of Nation at Risk, this should be an impossibility.
So to those members of this year's "Blue Ribbon" commission, I ask these questions: Why did the implied predictions of Nation at Risk turn out to be so wrong? Why should we assume that your forecasts of gloom and doom will be any more accurate than those of that other "Blue Ribbon" commission?