Very few reports have had the staying power of "A Nation At Risk,” which the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) published in April 1983, receiving extensive coverage on radio and television.
In one of its most famous passages, the authors of “A Nation At Risk” warned: "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people."
The report further warned that the US was losing its edge to other countries such as Japan and Germany. The US, it said, was also at risk of losing to its fiercest competitors, Russia and China, in the midst of the lingering Cold War, Presstv reported.
The study sparked a national outcry. Reagan made more than 50 trips around the country to attract public attention. Since then, the US has given a great deal of attention to education reforms. But concerns remain that many of the worries laid out in “A Nation At Risk” still ring true today.
US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos invoked the landmark report’s anniversary this month in comments to the Reagan Institute Summit on Education. She acknowledged that “our nation is still at risk. We are a nation at greater risk.”
DeVos warned that the US was being outpaced by nations like China, Germany, Vietnam and the United Kingdom in terms of student achievement. “This is unacceptable. This is inexcusable. And this is truly un-American. We can — we must — do better.”
American educators, however, say the federal government is not doing enough to improve education for the majority of students, and the sense of urgency that existed during Reagan’s presidency is waning at federal and state levels.
"We don't have a sense of urgency right now," said Margaret Spellings, President of the University of North Carolina and second education secretary under George W. Bush.
"We all worked for presidents that were really using that national bully pulpit to drive closing the achievement gap and on and on. And I think people are exhausted with education reform or feel like it's not possible to close the achievement gap. So the boulder is drifting back down the hill because of a lack of urgency around the imperative of closing the achievement gap."
Critics say President Donald Trump and her education secretary are making the matters worse by introducing devastating cuts to the Education Department that will undermine public schools.
DeVos, a billionaire and a strong advocate for school privatization, once described America’s public education system as a “monopoly” and a “dead end.” The DeVos family has spent millions of dollars in lobbying efforts in support of school privatization.
Thousands of teachers in multiple US states have walked out of public school classrooms in recent weeks to demand better pay and more education funding.
The statewide teacher strike in Arizona entered its third day Monday as educators remain dissatisfied with the pay hike proposal by Governor Doug Ducey and many schools remain closed despite threats of a lawsuit.
Similar job actions have been taken in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Colorado.
Trump and DeVos have proposed cutting as much as $9 billion from the Education Department's funding and shifting more money toward private school vouchers. Critics say they have made their priorities clear: Starve public schools to fund private school schemes that benefit the wealthy.