In April 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, commissioned by Secretary of Education T. H. Bell, began its report with these words:
“Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.”
The commission’s report, titled A Nation At Risk, with its alarming rhetoric and clarion call for change, turned the national spotlight on the need for educational reform and gave impetus to reform efforts over more than two decades.
Now another commission, this one appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, has sounded similar alarms about higher education in its report, A Test of Leadership. Is this, to quote Yogi Berra, “deja vu all over again”? Might educators and policymakers be forgiven for expressing “reform fatigue” and wondering whether another commission report can make any difference?
“Reform fatigue” is understandable, but it is not forgivable. Political and educational leaders need to reflect on what we’ve learned since 1983, digest this report, consider its implications, and then act to meet their responsibilities.
Published in Change ● January/February 2007