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Just how bad are public schools?

INTERVIEWS: Is There a Crisis in American Education?

"The crisis in our schools" has become a rallying cry in the 2000 presidential election. But how big is the problem? Are all our public schools in trouble, or simply those in the poorest urban districts? Are our "good" schools providing their students with what they need to compete in the information age? FRONTLINE asked Gore education advisor William Galston, Harvard Professor of Government Paul Peterson, economist Caroline Hoxby, and author Chester Finn to explore the extent of this proclaimed crisis.

Are We Still A Nation at Risk?

In 1983, The National Commission on Excellence released a landmark report, "A Nation at Risk," which warned that "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." Setting out to assess the quality of teaching and learning in the nation's public and private schools, colleges, and universities, the Commission issued wide-ranging, and often damning, conclusions about: secondary school curricula ("homogenized, diluted, and diffused to the point that they no longer have a central purpose"); poor use of classroom time; and a crisis in the recruitment, professional development, and payment of qualified teachers. The Commission's recommendations became the starting point for a new wave of thinking about education reform in the United States.

The Near-Myth of Our Failing Schools

Since the launching of Sputnik in the late 1950s triggered panic about the state of science and math education in America, the nation has attempted reform after reform under the assumption that our schools are failing. The 1983 "Nation at Risk" report made this case in a clear and authoritative way. But is the underlying assumption of failing schools right? Have we overlooked what our schools have done right? In this provocative article, journalist Peter Schrag poses these questions and cautions us to find out if things are as bad as we assume before we go too far with voucher, privitization, and other systemic reform plans.

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