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A Stagnant Nation

Woman working from home on telephone.

Woman working from home on telephone.

Today the campaign unveiled an original analysis and report card showing the lack of progress in the school reform movement since the release of the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, written by the National Commission on Excellence in Education 25 years ago.

Our schools have been underperforming for 25 years. America is slipping farther and farther behind the rest of the world academically because we have been unable to enact meaningful reforms or substantially improve student learning in the last quarter century.

We know that the American public supports education reform – the missing piece is leadership – on national and local levels. Without vigorous national leadership, states and schools cannot significantly improve their antiquated education systems. Students in our nation’s schools deserve a robust and world-class education that offers them a pathway towards the American dream.

The report, A Stagnant Nation: Why American Students Are Still at Risk, explains that few of the National Commission on Excellence in Education’s recommendations related to time, teaching and standards have yet to be enacted.  The report also says that America’s economic future remains gravely at risk. Here are some of our findings:

  • Time: A Nation at Risk urged schools and state legislatures to break the six-hour-a-day, 180-day-per-year calendar and consider seven-hour school days and 200- to 220-day school years. Yet, today only one state has a pilot program to significantly expand learning time and nationwide, the amount of time elementary school students spend learning core academic subjects has increased by only approximately 36 minutes per week, amounting to fewer than ten minutes per day.
  • Teaching: The Commission urged policymakers to help recruit the best and brightest to teaching by making the profession more attractive. To that end, the Commission recommended making teacher compensation “professionally competitive, market-sensitive, and performance-based.”  Yet today only five states have large-scale programs in place for performance pay or career-ladder incentives. And, only about eight percent of public school districts offer pay incentives to reward excellence in teaching — a figure that has remained virtually unchanged since 1984.  In 2004, only six percent of U.S. school districts could offer recruitment incentives in mathematics, despite the fact that nearly 30 percent of districts reported great difficulty hiring qualified math teachers to fill vacancies.
  • Standards & Expectations: The Commission recommended that states and districts raise standards and expectations so classroom grades reflect actual learning.  Yet 12th grade reading and science scores dropped as average high school GPAs were increasing. Students are earning better grades in “tougher” courses, yet actual learning is stagnant or declining.  In addition, states have failed to set rigorous academic standards in the lower grades. One study found that out of 32 states, not one state had set standards for 4th grade reading that were high enough to meet the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test and 24 had set standards so low they did not reach even the most basic level.

We need to do better; we can’t let another 25 years go by without action. Let’s stand up and call on our candidates to support real education reform. It’s the only way we’re going to fix our schools and better prepare our students for the future.