James Harvey: How We Cooked the Books to Produce a Deeply Flawed “A Nation at Risk”

Diane Ravitch's blog

This is the 40th anniversary of the Reagan-era report called “A Nation at Risk.” The report was immediately hailed as a “landmark,” blasting the quality of the nation’s public schools. President Reagan wanted the report to endorse school prayer and vouchers. It didn’t. But it castigated the nation’s public schools as failures and complained about their low standards and mediocrity. The report had a dramatic effect. States reacted with commissions and plans to raise standards and toughen tests.

James Harvey, a member of the staff that wrote the report, argues that the misleading rhetoric, diagnosis, and recommendations of the “Nation at Risk” report led to an obsession with test scores, undermined vocational education, and cemented the simplistic mindset that produced “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” while ignoring the serious social and economic conditions that hinder children’s lives. Even today’s culture wars targeting the schools can be…

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