“A Nation at Risk” Twenty-Five Years Later


Richard Rothstein has written an essay for Cato Unbound debunking the 1983 Nation at Risk report that has driven the so-called education reform efforts of the last 25-plus years. Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national education columnist of The New York Times. He is the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (Teachers College Press and EPI, 2008) and Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press 2004). With his extensive background in education policy analysis, Rothstein is an important voice in the current debate regarding the re-authorization of NCLB.

This article, written two years ago, should be “must reading” for school board members, legislators and school administrators.  It clearly points out the futility of the current reform efforts that narrow the curriculum to improve reading and math scores at the expense of the whole child.  It further points out the error of suggested ties of such scores to the economic well being of the U.S.

Here are the first two paragraphs to set the tone. Rothstein follows with clear evidence to support each of his three contentions.

“In 1983, A Nation at Risk misidentified what is wrong with our public schools and consequently set the nation on a school reform crusade that has done more harm than good.”

“The diagnosis of the National Commission on Excellence in Education was flawed in three respects: First, it wrongly concluded that student achievement was declining. Second, it placed the blame on schools for national economic problems over which schools have relatively little influence. Third, it ignored the responsibility of the nation’s other social and economic institutions for learning.”

Here is a link to the essay: