8.3 A Nation at Risk


 Read a Nation at Risk:

A nation at risk is printed in the back of this book in Appendix B, or available at the link below:


As you read A Nation at Risk, complete the guided reading*to help prepare for class discussion.

A Nation at Risk was the report published in 1983 by the commission on excellence in education appointed by President Regan. The report quickly pointed out that the level of student illiteracy was high and that SAT scores had been on a steady decline for the two decades before publication of the report. Mediocrity was a word used to describe the state of education in America. SAT scores actually started to improve beginning in 1980.

The report provided specific recommendations for improving the nation’s educational system. Every student at the minimum should be required to take: (a) 4 years of English; (b) 3 years of mathematics; (c) 3 years of science; (d) 3 years of social studies; and (e) one-half year of computer science. All K-12 schools and colleges should adopt rigorous standards. To be effective, the standards needed to be measurable. In fact, the report kicked off the standard movement with professional education organizations creating and publishing national standards. Longer school days or years would be needed to study the curricula outlined by the new standards. Many suggestions were given to improve teacher preparation programs, educational leadership, and fiscal support.

Education was directly tied to economic competitiveness, and schools were to be accountable for the quality of student education verified by external testing. The call for more testing began with the report. Comparisions of American schools began to be made to international schools. Scores of America’s top-level students were highest or near the top on international tests.

“Any attempt to isolate developments in the schools from those in society at large turns out to reflect principally the inclination to institutionalize blame for whatever is going wrong: the formal part of the learning process cannot be separated from its societal context” (College Board). In the 1960s and 70s society was tumultuous during a large part of the report. Watching tv for longer periods of time was on the rise among students. More students of poverty and color were taking the SATs. Single-parent families were on the increase. These were all factors that, in general, affect the academic performance of students negatively.

Teachers have increasingly resisted what they see as misplaced blame and narrowing of the curriculum. A large part of the problem is that negative political rhetoric about education increased. One aspect of misplaced blame is the concentration and increase of students living in poverty. The tipping point depends on what the purpose of education is determined to be. Teachers lean to expanding the minds of students and want art and music included in the curriculum.

Wrap Up

Past educational events continue to have an impact on educational policy and how American teachers go about educating students. Examining history in context gives reason to much of the current educational landscape. Labaree argues for three goals of education: democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility. Viewing history through these lenses allows for a decision to be made on the validity of his claim. A Nation at Risk still holds a strong sway on how education is viewed in this country from a need to provide the capability of citizens to maintain the country’s economic well being to holding teachers solely responsible for the quality of graduates.