A Faux National Crisis

By Bettina Love, re-posted from Education Week

“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.” This sentence, rooted in misleading and skewed data, changed education forever. Forty years ago, starting in April 1983, this country manufactured an education crisis that effectively put targets on the backs of its children, especially Black children. U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, under the direction of President Ronald Reagan, released a 36-page report titled “A Nation at Risk.” It told the world that not only were American children failing academically, but “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

The authors claimed that data proved American children were lagging behind those in other industrialized nations in student achievement, citing, among other references, plummeting SAT scores and a functional illiteracy rate among minority children as high as 40 percent. The report kindled education reform as we know it. However, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, tests that are the most widely respected yardstick of student achievement nationally, reported that from the 1970s to the early 1980s, the performance of elementary and secondary pupils increased moderately on some examinations while dropping slightly on others. The report intentionally omitted such positive educational data, but why?

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