Twenty-five years ago this week, Americans awoke to a forceful little report that, depending on your point of view, either ruined public education or saved it.
On April 26, 1983, in a White House ceremony, Ronald Reagan took possession of “A Nation at Risk.” The product of nearly two years’ work by a blue-ribbon commission, it found poor academic performance at nearly every level and warned that the education system was “being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.”
It kick-started decades of tough talk about public schools and reforms that culminated in 2002’s No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration law that pushes schools to improve students’ basic skills or face ever-tougher sanctions.
Twenty-five years later, the sole teacher on the 1983 panel says the tough talk was just what the doctor ordered.
“In order to move a nation to make changes, you have to find some very incisive language,” Jay Sommer says. Now 81 and teaching Hebrew at a suburban synagogue, Sommer was a high school language teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., when tapped to help produce the report.
Paul Orfalea offers some related thoughts here.