A Nation At Risk is a report that was issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The members of this commission were appointed by the Education Secretary Terrel Bell. This report was the result of an eighteen month study. The report concentrated primarily on secondary education. Secondary schools curricula were closely examined and it was found that the curricula no longer had a central purpose unifying all of the subjects.

The state of American Education was found to be very bad. "What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur - others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments" (5). Some findings of this report show that the risks are that "Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest test of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension. About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate" (8). The problem was cited as often being in the way that the educational process itself was being conducted. "Compared to other nations, American students spend much less time on school work" (21).

Economic repercussions were presumed to occur because of this poor state of American education. It was thought that as long as we continued to decline in education we would lose our competitive edge in the world's market economy. The findings of this report were considered particularly depressing when one takes into account that the demand for highly skilled workers in scientific and technological fields was at an all time high.

Therefore, this report suggested five new basics to be added to the curriculum of America's schools. These basics included four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, three years of social studies, and half a year of computer science in America's high schools. Specific standards were established as to what should be accomplished by these five basics. "The teaching of English in high school should equip graduates to: (a) comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and use what they read; (b) write well-organized, effective papers; (c) listen effectively and discuss ideas intelligently; and (d) know our literary heritage and how it enhances imagination and ethical understanding, and how it relates to the customs, ideas, and values of today's life and culture. The teaching of mathematics in high school should equip graduates to: (a) understand geometric and algebraic concepts; (b) understand elementary probability and statistics; (c) apply mathematics in everyday situations; and (d) estimate, approximate, measure, and test the accuracy of their calculations. In addition to the traditional sequence of studies available for college-bound students, new equally demanding mathematics curricula need to be developed for those who do not plan to continue their formal education immediately" (25). These basics were to enable us to achieve excellence. In addition to these new basics it was also proposed that the study of foreign languages should be begun in the elementary schools. Excellence as defined by the National Commission on Excellence in Education is "a school or college that sets high expectations and goals for all learners, then tries in every way possible to help students reach them" (12).

As a way to increase our educational position in the world this commission suggested that teaching, teacher education, and education standards be reformed. The virtues of life-long learning for all were also extolled. This report cited a high demand for increased support for those who teach mathematics, science, foreign languages, and specialists in education for gifted and talented, language minority, and handicapped students. The study found that those who were interested in the field of education were all to often not academically qualified. "The teacher preparation curriculum is weighted heavily with courses in 'education methods' at the expense of courses in subjects to be taught" (22). This report also encouraged the raising of teachers salaries in order to attract and retain qualified teachers. Going hand in hand with this concept would be the institution of merit pay and incentives such as grants and loans.


A Nation At Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. Washington D.C.: The Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983.

Prepared by Melissa Scherer