U.S. School System Has Not Improved in Past Quarter-Century, Report Finds

Little progress has been made in reforming U.S. public schools since the release of the landmark 1983 report A Nation at Risk and presidential leadership will be necessary to improve the nation's education system, a new report from Strong American Schools' "Ed in '08" campaign finds.

Published by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk found that U.S. schools were being eroded by a "rising tide of mediocrity," noting systemic problems in academic standards and expectations, the time allocated for learning, and the quality of teachers. According to the new report, A Stagnant Nation: Why American Students Are Still at Risk (24 pages, PDF), few of the earlier commission's recommendations have been enacted, leaving America's economic future at risk.

The report from Ed in '08, which is funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations, found that only one state has a pilot program to significantly expand learning time, only five states have large-scale programs in place for performance pay or career-ladder incentives, and that even as students are earning better grades in tougher courses, actual learning is stagnant or declining. For example, two out of five high school seniors lack math skills commonly taught in 7th or 8th grade, while reading skills have declined for 12th-grade students from all backgrounds, including those with college-educated parents.

"Our schools have been underperforming for twenty-five years. America is slipping farther and farther behind the rest of the world academically because we have been unable to enact meaningful reforms or substantially improve student learning in the last quarter century," said Ed in '08 chairman Roy Romer. "We know that the American public supports education reform — the missing piece is leadership — on national and local levels. Without vigorous national leadership, states and schools cannot significantly improve their antiquated education systems. Students in our nation's schools deserve a robust and world-class education that offers them a pathway towards the American dream."