Education Letter to the Editor

‘Perfect Storm’ Report: Alarm, But Not Blame

June 11, 2007 2 min read

To the Editor:

The beginning of Ellen Condliffe Lagemann’s Commentary “Public Rhetoric, Public Responsibility, and the Public Schools” (May 16, 2007) references three reports, including one we helped write, “America’s Perfect Storm.” She asserts that each “argues that our nation is in peril because our educational institutions are failing to prepare workers who can compete with workers in other nations.” We beg to differ, at least with respect to our report.

The intent of “America’s Perfect Storm” was twofold: (1) to characterize the current distribution of literacy skills in the nation’s workforce and the strong associations between those skills, on the one hand, and economic and social outcomes on the other, and (2) to project the implications of demographic and economic trends on the distribution of literacy skills in 2030, as well as the dire consequences for the life chances of those individuals with weak or even modest skills.

Although we do believe that these projections should cause alarm, we do not ascribe blame to the schools, as Ms. Lagemann says. Indeed, we agree with her that there is a complex dynamic involving many institutions that governs trends in educational achievement, and that policies based on simplistic diagnoses are no more likely to be successful than those tried in the past.

With the plethora of reports now in circulation, productive discussion is hindered if there is insufficient attention paid to the distinctions among them.

Henry Braun

Professor of Education and Public Policy

Boston College

Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Irwin Kirsch

Senior Research Director

Educational Testing Service

Princeton, N.J.

The writers were among the authors of “America’s Perfect Storm,” released by the Educational Testing Service in February.

To the Editor:

“Public Rhetoric, Public Responsibility, and the Public Schools,” by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (May 16, 2007), is a Commentary so important it should be plastered to the front door of every school, next to the “Visitors Report to the Main Office” sign.

This essay should be read aloud at teachers’ and parents’ meetings. It provides the understanding that the public needs about what schools can do and what the public must do.

As one of the selected contributors to your recently published best-of-Commentary book, The Last Word, I want to nominate Ms. Lagemann’s essay for your next edition. May there be many more Commentaries such as hers to convey the message about what schools can accomplish and what society has to contribute—money, yes, but even more than money.

Dorothy Rich


Home and School Institute

Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2007 edition of Education Week