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September 8th, 2008
A Nation at Risk: Are Our Schools Still in Peril?

It was exactly 25 years ago that President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education released a report that shattered any notion that America’s schools were performing well.

The report – Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform – came to a disturbing conclusion: our education system was falling behind the rest of the world.

“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.”

The 18 members of the Commission made 38 recommendations for reform, divided across 5 major categories: Content, Standards and Expectations, Time, Teaching, Leadership and Fiscal Support. These recommendations set off a series of efforts on a local, state and federal level.

It was not the first time, of course, that America’s schools had come under such scrutiny. In 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik – the first space satellite – it set off a wave of paranoia. That wave resulted in a major push to improve our schools, and a dozen years later one of our greatest accomplishments as a nation: sending a man to the moon.

How have our schools fared since these wake-up calls? And are we still a nation at risk?

Some of the facts about education in America today, many of which are presented in WHERE WE STAND, argue that in many ways, we are. While the U.S. still leads the world as an economic power and innovator, other countries are fast catching up. And when it comes to education, many of them have already surpassed us. America once had the best high school graduation rate, but it has now fallen below 15th among industrialized nations. Our 15-year-olds perform below average in math, science, and problem-solving.

Earlier this year, Education Week published its annual Report Card, which included a portion titled: “A Stagnant Nation: Why American Students are Still at Risk.” Its conclusion? The obstacle to reforms in our schools is political, and ‘vigorous national leadership’ is needed to improve education.

Today, education experts say, it’s not the race to space that threatens the status of our schools. Instead, it’s the ever-changing, increasingly competitive global marketplace.

“We’re acting like our jobs are not going to leave, and that we’re going to be able to compete in a global market with a second class education in America – and that day is over,” says Geoffrey Canada, President and Founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone. “We’ve allowed the rest of the world to get ahead of us.”


  • Don Soles

    Our school refused to deal with our son being racially targeted for harassment, bullying, threats and assaults. After two years of our complaining, they told him, in writing, that he was not allowed in any of his classes if a substitute was in the room and he had to use the nurse’s restroom. They would rather racially segregate the victim than deal with the racially motivated hatred. Is this a new form of JIM CROW? They can’t discipline the african american kids without someone playing the race card so they deny the white victim an equal access education. Joe Biden’s office was notified of this and every other politician in Delaware. Nobody cares to do anything about this.

  • Phyllis Stewart

    My grandson has had an anger problem and would lash out at students who hit him, tripped him slammed him trashed his locker, his books etc. He began “stabbing” these abusive students with his mechanical pencil. This became a “Fun thing to do. Who can get J. L. so angry that he will “stab them with his pencil?” Finall after about three or four students “won their Badge of Courage” by being stabbed by my grandson, he was expelled from school. I was informed that it was my responsibility to to do home teaching for him. (They were just “passing the buck” as he had never done any school or home work since he had entered the school in the 3rd grade and I continuously complained that I could not get him to do any work at home. He absolutely refused.)
    As you can guess,very little was done to the instigators of the issue that caused his reaction following the tauntings and abusive behavior.
    My grandson had come to live with me after suffering much abuse while living with his biological parent. There were many issues to deal with and I had spent 5 years calling and begging for help from psychologist, pshchiatrists, residential care facilities etc. Nothing! No one would lift a finger to address the issue that I was told needed immediate, intensive intervention. I tried everyone and everything to get help. The only answer that I received from the residential care facilities was, We only take referrals from the state and Child Protective Services.” My reply was that “he has a home. All that I need is HELP.”
    Finally at the end of year after being dismissed from school, as a last desprate effort to get my grandson some help, I called CPS. Their reply, “Well you can’t just drop him off on our doorstep, it is your responsibility to take care of him.” After all that I had gone through to keep from sending him away, now I am told that they will not help either.
    I refused to let them put me off until they finally did come get him. My issue all along was, I am not givoing him away. He needs help. I expect the he will come back home where he belongs. I love him and want him back but he has to get his anger under control and the only way is for him to live at a residential facility where there are many caretakers, each with only one duty, to make sure he does homework, or bathe and wash his clothes, eat, get up, behave, etc. All these things that I could not do alone but they could address because of the sheer number of facilitators working with the children.
    After a year he is back, has learned anger control but the local students still abuse him hoping to get him to break and lash out at them.
    I have spoken to the school and they don’t know that anything is going on. They “will keep an eye open to make sure that no one punches, trips, pushes him and so on.
    I want something done. I know that if he does finally “break” he will be the one thrown into the detention facility, not the abusive instigators who are daily harassing my grandson.
    What help is out there for this very intelligent young man who is well liked by the instructors and other students who are not the abusers? He is neering his final year of high school school. I want to see some immediate help for this young man. Who will hear or who will take on the task of helping this student?

  • Christina Adams

    I believe that Americans are losing our standings in the Global community at such a high rate, that if we don’t make education in this country priority, we’ll end up losing any respect we have left in the Global Community; not to mention a huge economic standing. The key element involved is the pure lack of work ethics. Starting early on in school, we are teaching our kids poor work ethics. If they didn’t spend so much time out of school, maybe there would be room to learn. Teachers cry about their salaries, but they sure don’t take any time in the summer to educate themselves, no they’d rather have a bunch of in -services in the middle of the school year, to promote the continuing of their education. If we became more strict with the Teachers and their requirements, we might be able to compete with other countries. I feel that “Where We Stand” presented by PBS is an accurate and absolutely shocking reality that this country has to face. We have to make education more affordable, better scheduled, and the number one priority in this country. As Americans we have become arrogant,lazy and foolish about our Children, our health, and our communities. If we don’t take action now, we’ll jeapordize everything that the generations before have provided us. Have we not realized that our children are the future, and if we don’t provide them with the proper tools needed to compete in a fast paced high technology world, they are going lose everything, possibly even their freedoms? Wake up America, take a stand..demand better education, demand that the government stop foolish spending that could go towards better education. I am absolutely ready to buy a copy of this program to give to the teachers and Principals of my community. Great Job PBS. Once again PBS is looking out for the interest of the people of our country, guiding us to the truths to help better our communities. Thank You PBS!

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