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Despite 25 years of reform, U.S. schools still fall short

New studies echo a key call from landmark 1983 report: boost teacher training and pay.

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The report that launched an education-reform movement – released 25 years ago Thursday – is causing some reform advocates to issue the same sort of dire warnings today.

The original report warned that "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 a people." Now, despite the push toward standards-based reform that culminated in No Child Left Behind, the United States has made relatively small strides in student achievement. And it has fallen further behind other industrialized nations. Without major changes, including better teacher training and compensation, the US risks not only stagnating achievement but also serious harm to the economy, reformers say.

"The countries pulling ahead have made intense, purposeful investments [in education] over 20 years, and we haven't," says Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University and a lead author of a new report from the Forum for Education and Democracy that calls for a revised federal role in US schools. "We're treading water, and they're swimming really fast." In fact, the US has implemented a number of major reforms in the past decades, arguably spurred on by the Reagan-era Nation at Risk report. States began developing standards, and the idea of accountability gained traction. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton took significant actions. In 2001, President George W. Bush pushed through No Child Left Behind.


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