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A Nation Still at Risk: Real Education Reform Needed Now

A Nation Still at Risk: Real Education Reform Needed Now

"A Nation at Risk cited some very mind-numbing statistics, including 23 million functionally illiterate adults."

Victor Lana

In 1983 the landmark publication of the report A Nation at Risk seemed to shake our nation from its slumber regarding the scary truth about education in America. It detailed how there were serious problems in schools in this country and recommended fixes for what ailed schools. Unfortunately, twenty-eight years later there are still many things that are wrong in education, despite George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and President Barack Obama’s drive to improve our nation’s schools.

Recently Mr. Obama said, “In the 21st century, it’s not enough to leave no child behind. We need to help every child get ahead. We need to get every child on a path to academic excellence.” Of course, that is a terrific sound bite, but we have to wonder if it has teeth. We have to see real proactive measures taking place here and now, not in some nebulous and undefined future place.

The problem now is that there are too many schools seen as “failing” schools. This number continues to rise. Here in New York City, there have been schools closed because of failing grades. New ones (especially Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s darling charter schools) have risen to take their place, but students are still struggling. Statistics are not conclusive about the effects of smaller schools (like charters), but the reality is that more schools than ever before are seen as failing here in New York (and across the country). As the state looks to make evaluation of teachers more stringent, and with the new Common Core Standards looming, it is likely that more than ever before we will be faced with schools that are seen as lacking or failing.

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What is actually wrong with our schools? An easy out is for one to look to the classrooms and blame teachers. For me, this is what is wrong with what has been happening for years. Instead of addressing many other larger and more important concerns, the easy fix has always been to target the teacher and look for ways to replace him or her. Things like “merit pay” or tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores only exacerbate this problem.

“Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.” Sound familiar? These are the opening words of the 1983 report. It is worth noting that this was a time before the Internet connected world of today; the time of the Soviet Union and other supposedly nefarious countries and people wanting to destroy us. This was pre-September 11th and all the concerns of terrorism that haunt us now. If I didn’t know those words were written in 1983, I’d wager they were composed yesterday about our current state of education and place in the world.

Next: Are things getting better? >>

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