The 25th anniversary of the publication of A Nation at Risk is a “teachable moment for the American public,” Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said this week.
“We have righted the ship with the intensity of focus on the individual needs of every child,” Ms. Spellings said in an interview on April 15, 11 days before the anniversary of the report’s release.
But, she said, “we’re going to have to pick up the pace considerably.”
The secretary plans to issue a white paper describing “how far we’ve come and how far we need to go,” she said. She also plans to deliver speeches and organize events highlighting the findings of that paper.
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which had been appointed by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, published the report saying that weaknesses in U.S. schools threatened to erode the nation’s international standing. The report called for efforts to improve the quality of teachers, set standards defining what students should know, and increase the rigor of coursework required to earn a high school diploma.
As the anniversary approaches, several groups have issued reports suggesting that student achievement in the United States still lags behind that of other countries.
“The United States has fallen even farther behind as other countries make concerted efforts to improve their education systems,” the Strong American Schools Campaign said in “A Stagnant Nation,” released last week. The Washington-based nonprofit group, also known as ED in ’08, is trying to raise the profile of education in the 2008 presidential election.
In the interview, Secretary Spellings said American schools face unique challenges in trying to keep up with other nations.
“Our nation is attempting … to provide a quality education to every single person who shows up at the schoolhouse door,” she said. That is particularly difficult given the diversity of the student population, with students from all over the world enrolling in U.S. schools, she said.
“Not every [country] has that same aspiration or those same challenges,” Ms. Spellings said.
But the United States must take steps to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed in school so they can compete for jobs with children from around the world in the global marketplace, the secretary said.
Ms. Spellings said her efforts to promote such goals will continue beyond the end of her tenure as secretary of education next January, when President Bush leaves office.
“I’m going to be part of the firelighting about why we have to do this work as Americans,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Spellings: U.S. Schools Must ‘Pick Up Pace’