How A Nation at Risk put Education at Risk, pt 1

More and more education is largely seen as an economic concern: it is to help the individual and society compete economically and advance materially (Covaleskie, 2010). As part of this view, education is blamed when the economy is poor or the United States appears not to be competing well globally (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Bracey, 2001, 2007; Covaleskie, 2010). Though education is blamed and criticized in poor economic times, it does not receive comparable praise when the economy is doing well and when the United States’ role in the global marketplace is perceived as strong.

For the last decade, U.S. presidents, corporate leaders, and critics blasted public schools for a globally less competitive economy, sinking productivity, and jobs lost to other nations….Why is it now with a bustling economy, rising productivity, and shrinking unemployment, American public schools are not receiving credit for the turnaround? (Cuban, 1994)

The need for education to prepare us for economic superiority and global competition are familiar refrains in both state and national reform policy statements, stating that, though we were once the wealthiest and greatest nation on earth, because of inferior education, we are losing our competitive edge and first place status. Examples of these themes can be found in most national reform proposals from Sputnik to A Nation at Risk to the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top legislation.

Let us briefly consider A Nation at Risk, released in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, as an example. This reform document is well known and recent enough to be relevant to current policy proposals, but old enough to be examined within some historical context. The dramatic rhetoric in this politically and ideologically-driven policy statement is still echoed and influential in today’s thinking and reform agenda. The title itself suggests that the failure of schools and education had put our “nation at risk.”

Like today, the early eighties were a time of economic hardships and recession with similar problems caused by corruption and mismanagement in several political and financial institutions. Like today, instead of blaming bad corporate, political and financial decisions for the problems, bad schools and education were made the scapegoat for our “committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 1). Bracey accurately predicted this in his 17th Report on the Conditions of Education in 2007

 In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, the National Center on Education and the Economy, the Broad Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have set up the public schools once again. If the subprime mortgage debacle sends us spiraling into recession, educators can expect to take the hit. (p. 124)


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
This entry was posted in Education and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How A Nation at Risk put Education at Risk, pt 1

  1. Im from the US. I have watched and vocalized the decline in education for years. Guess it was falling on deaf ears. Even with the continuing problems with education and the growing effects from the economy and wonderful teachers giving leaving the profession (for a multitude of legitimate reasons) education in the US is better than that in many countries. Taking into consideration that most Americans cant see outside the US and every country uses a different yardstick to measure, the US is still sliding down the list. This didn’t start yesterday. Much of the responsibility for educating/training has shifted to business … in may instances. Business has to largely train and educate their employees just to make them productive…… after they have been educated by our educational system. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not throwing rocks from the Business’s view point, my point is, education is failing and the responsibility is being dumped in everyone’s lap and in some cases … rightfully so! I don’t have the answer. I just found the soap box unoccupied momentarily! Education here in Peru where we live and focus our efforts is in much worse shape. It has never been a priority in this developing country. If that brick wall is starting to make an impression on your head, come visit us! We can use and will appreciate help. Please check us out at and here at We realize we can’t save the world but we can make a difference. Thanks for your blog. mac

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s