Our nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. … If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.
The bumbling began immediately. Reagan startled the commission members by hailing their call for prayer in the schools, school vouchers, and the abolition of the Department of Education. The commission hadn’t said a word about any of these things.
Indeed, the commission had been launched by then Secretary of Education Terrell Bell to fend off the president’s 1980 campaign proposal to abolish the department. In its report, it laid out a strong argument in favor of a vigorous federal presence in education to support vulnerable students, aid higher education and research, and protect civil rights. These suggestions were quickly relegated to the dust bin of history.
Here is a piece about how the report was created and its impact. It was written by Harvey, who was a senior staff member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which wrote “A Nation at Risk”; Harvey contributed to it. He retired in 2021 as executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, a nonprofit organization that supports its members of approximately 100 school superintendents from 30 states.