Risk Report’s Anniversary Prompts Reflection

By David J. Hoff — April 29, 2008 3 min read
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Associate Editor Kathleen Kennedy Manzo contributed to this report.

Just as the publication of A Nation at Risk caused President Reagan to re-evaluate his education policies, the 25th anniversary of the landmark report should give federal policymakers the opportunity to reconsider the current federal approach, one influential lawmaker said last week.

“This is exactly the right time to pause at the end of this administration and at the beginning of the next administration and rethink” the federal role in K-12 schools, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said here at an event marking the release of one of several reports timed to mark the anniversary of the 1983 report.

The federal role should continue to focus on providing poor and minority students with access to quality schools, said Rep. Miller, who is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The federal government should continue to do so by holding schools accountable for improving student achievement. But it also should hold states and school districts accountable for providing schools the resources they need to provide that quality education, Rep. Miller said. “We have to go back and put on the table opportunity to learn, equity, and access,” he said.

Rep. Miller made the remarks at an event sponsored by the Forum for Education and Democracy, a group of educators and researchers critical of the testing and accountability required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In its new report, “Democracy at Risk,” the group calls for the federal government to create incentives for states to equalize funding and to use so-called opportunity-to-learn standards to hold them accountable for providing adequate facilities, qualified teachers, and other resources to aid students’ achievement. (“Forum Seeks A New Vision for U.S. Role,” April 23, 2008).

That would be a dramatic shift from current federal policies under the NCLB law, which sets goals for student achievement for every school and holds schools receiving money under the law’s Title I program accountable for meeting those goals.

The law provides more than $20 billion a year in federal funds for schools, but it doesn’t leverage federal policy to equalize state and local funding, the Stewart, Ohio-based group says.

The ‘Bully Pulpit’

Many of the NCLB law’s policies grew out of the standards-and-testing movement that emerged in the years after the release of A Nation at Risk. The report said the nation’s schools weren’t adequately preparing students to compete with other nations. It called for states to increase the rigor of high school curriculum, lengthen the school year, and establish common standards.

The 1983 report was produced by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which had been convened by the Department of Education under President Reagan’s first secretary of education, Terrel H. Bell.

The report did not promote the Reagan administration’s goals to expand school choice and reduce the federal role in education, and it deflated the administration’s plans to abolish the then-new Education Department, Edwin Meese III, who was a White House adviser to President Reagan at the time, said in a speech last week at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Mr. Meese, 76, who is now the chairman of the Heritage Foundation’s center for legal and judicial studies, told about three dozen attendees that the federal commission that wrote the report had argued that federal education assistance to states and districts should be provided with a minimum of administrative burden and intrusiveness.

“The problem has been the direction the federal government has gone in, in increasing federal regulation and federal influence on local schools and government activity,” said Mr. Meese, who later served as U.S. attorney general from 1985-1988. “As opposed to what Ronald Reagan did, which was using the bully pulpit of the presidency to increase public attention and public recognition that it was state and local officials that had to do the job.”

Associate Editor Kathleen Kennedy Manzo contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as Risk Report’s Anniversary Prompts Reflection


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