Monday Report
A Nation at a Loss April 28th 2008



T.H. Bell



A Nation at a Loss

April 25, 2008

Op-Ed Contributor


Durham, N.C.

Saturday April 26th is the 25th anniversary of "A Nation at Risk," a remarkable document that became a milestone in the history of American education - albeit in ways that its creators neither planned, anticipated or even wanted.

  • In August 1981, Education Secretary T. H. Bell created a National Commission on Excellence in Education to examine, in the report's words, "the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system." Secretary Bell's expectation, he later said, was that the report would paint a rosy picture of American education and correct all those widespread negative perceptions.
  • Instead, on April 26, 1983, the commission released a sweeping 65-page indictment of the quality of teaching and learning in American primary and secondary schools couched in a style of apocalyptic rhetoric rarely found in blue-ribbon commission reports.
  • "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," it warned. "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."
  • To his credit, Secretary Bell, a moderate Republican who had been hoping for some political relief from critics on his right, stood by these unexpected words from his commission - and thereby became the unwitting father of the modern school reform movement.
  • Secretary Bell's boss, President Ronald Reagan, was also taken aback by "A Nation at Risk," although for different reasons. He took office in 1981 with a three-fold agenda for education: abolishing the Department of Education, promoting tuition tax credits and vouchers and restoring voluntary prayer in the schools. Using the bully pulpit and purse of the federal government to promote "excellence" in teaching and learning was not on the list.
  • When members of the White House staff saw an early copy of "A Nation at Risk," they were distressed to find no mention of their political agenda and threatened to cancel the ceremony in which the president would receive the first copy. Secretary Bell and commission members replied that such topics were at best tangential to their assigned topic of excellence in teaching and learning.
  • Eventually a compromise was reached. The president agreed to receive the commission and accept the first copy of "A Nation at Risk" at a White House ceremony, and he used his remarks to reaffirm his political objectives - none of which were mentioned in the report. Several members of the commission later confided that they left Washington that day in a depressed mood, convinced that they had been "used" and were destined to be ignored.
  • Then came the biggest twist of all. "A Nation at Risk" resonated with Americans, who seemingly agreed that there was indeed something "seriously remiss" in their schools. White House pollsters picked this up. The president began visiting schools all over the country, usually in the company of Secretary Bell, who until then, as head of a department scheduled for elimination, had never seen the inside of Air Force One.
  • The most important legacy of "A Nation at Risk" was to put the quality of education on the national political agenda - where it has remained ever since. The last 25 years have seen a succession of projects and movements aimed at increasing the quality of American primary and secondary schools: standards- based reform, the 1989 "education summit" that set six "national goals" for education, the push for school choice and, most recently, the No Child Left Behind legislation. Proponents of each have taken pains to portray themselves as the heirs of "A Nation at Risk."
  • The apocalyptic rhetoric of the opening section of "A Nation at Risk" isn't the only element of the report that has had a lasting impact. One of the main ideas enshrined in the document - that quality of schooling is directly linked to economic competitiveness - has also shaped the way Americans think about education. This particular theory, however, hasn't been borne out by history.
  • In 1983, the causal connection between education and the economy seemed obvious. Americans were living in awe of the Japanese "economic miracle" and assumed that it was made possible by a school system whose students consistently routed ours on all those comparative international achievement tests. But then the Japanese economy soured - even though it still had the same education system - and we began asking ourselves another question: If American schools are so bad, why is our economy doing so well?
  • With the wisdom of hindsight, it is clear that the link between educational excellence and economic security is not as simple as "A Nation at Risk" made it seem. By the mid-1980s, policymakers in Japan, South Korea and Singapore were already beginning to complain that their educational systems focused too much on rote learning and memorization. They continue to envy American schools because they teach creativity and the problem-solving skills critical to prospering in the global economy.
  • Indeed, a consensus seems to be emerging among educational experts around the world that American schools operate within the context of an enabling environment - an open economy, strong legal and banking systems, an entrepreneurial culture - conducive to economic progress.
  • To put it bluntly, American students may not know as much as their counterparts around the Pacific Rim, but our society allows them to make better use of what they do know. The question now is whether this historic advantage will suffice at a time when knowledge of math, science and technology is becoming increasingly critical. Maybe we need both the enabling environment and more rigor in these areas.
  • But while the theory behind "A Nation at Risk" may no longer hold (mediocre education inevitably leads to a weak economy), the report's desperate language may be more justified than ever, for American education is in turmoil.
  • Most troubling now are the numbers on educational attainment. One reason that the American economy was so dominant throughout the 20th century is that we provided more education to more citizens than other industrialized countries. "A Nation at Risk" noted with pride that American schools "now graduate 75 percent of our young people from high school."
  • That figure has now dropped to less than 70 percent, and the United States, which used to lead the world in sending high school graduates on to higher education, has declined to fifth in the proportion of young adults who participate in higher education and is 16th out of 27 industrialized countries in the proportion who complete college, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
  • The striking thing about the performance of American students on international comparisons is not that, on average, they are in the middle of the pack - which was also true in 1983 - but that we have a disproportionate share of low-performing students. We are failing to provide nearly one-third of our young people with even the minimal education required to be functioning citizens and workers in a global economy.
  • This is particularly distressing news at a time when the baby boomers are aging and a growing proportion of the future work force comes from groups - members of ethnic and racial minorities, students from low-income families, recent immigrants - that have been ill served by our education system. The challenge today is to build access as well as excellence. That's the new definition of "a nation a risk" - and ample reason for a new commission to awaken the nation to the need to educate all our young people.
  • Edward B. Fiske, a former Times education editor, is the author of the Fiske Guide to Colleges.

Source: Op Ed New York Times, April 25th 2008


25th anniversary of "A Nation at Risk

Bob Springmeyer

Bonneville Research

    • Global Business Confidence
    • Global business confidence fell to a record low in mid-April. Businesses' assessments of current business conditions are bleak as are their views on the strength of sales. Equipment investment is holding up much better, but it too has weakened notably in recent weeks. Hiring intentions in April are consistent with another month of job losses. Financial services firms are glum. The only good news in the report is tentative indications that the inventory drawdown is abating. Asian confidence is also holding on better.
    • Risk of Recession
    • The U.S. economy is contracting but the current downturn, which we believe began in December, is expected to be short and mild, similar to the 8-month downturn of 2001. With the current downturn developing, the Moody's Economy.com probability of recession eased to 56% in March, compared to February's 62%. Additional actions by the Fed are increasingly likely as the fallout from the housing correction and credit crisis intensifies.
    • Durable Goods (Advance)
    • Durable goods orders fell 0.3% in March following a 0.9% decline in February (as revised). The consensus forecast had expected a 0.6% gain in orders. However, orders excluding transportation rose 1.5%, in line with expectations, and the March report was much improved over prior months. Core capital goods orders were flat over the month. Shipments fell for the second consecutive month and inventories rose 1.1%.
    • Jobless Claims
    • In a surprise move, initial jobless claims plunged 33,000 to 342,000. In recent months, claims had been trending higher, and this most recent drop is likely due to the volatility often seen in the series.
    • New-Home Sales (C25)
    • The March report on sales of new homes paints a very dark picture for current housing activity. According to the Census Bureau, sales plummeted by about 9% from February to 526,000 annualized units, well below expectations. Further, Census revised downward the February sales. The median price was down by 13% from one year ago and the months of inventory shot up to 11.
    • Existing-Home Sales
    • Weakness is pervasive throughout the housing market. On par with expectations, existing home sales declined by 2%, to 4.93 million annualized units, according to the National Association of Realtors. The months of inventories increased slightly to 9.9 months, although the inventory data is not adjusted for seasonal factors. The slide in house prices continues, with the median price falling by nearly 8% from one year ago.
    • OFHEO Purchase-Only House Price Index
    • The monthly house price index rose by 0.6% from January to February, though this still adds up to a 2.4% fall in prices compared to February 2007. Since peaking in April 2007, the house price index is down by 3.1%. Regionally, the largest price increases were in New England and the East North Central region, while the Mountain region and the South Atlantic are still experiencing modest declines in prices. The modest overall increase in February indicates that the national housing market might at last have bottomed out and begun to rally, although many of the areas worst hit by the housing crisis will not experience rising home prices for some time to come.
    • MBA Mortgage Applications>Survey
    • The Mortgage Bankers Association's market composite indices finished down for the week ending April 18. A surge in fixed mortgage rates reduced the overall volume of applications, especially for refinancing. The composite market index finished down by 14.2% from the previous week, led mainly by a 20.2% decline in the refinance index. The purchase index also fell substantially, by 6.4% from the previous week. This was a week of overall tight credit conditions, and therefore fewer applications.
    • Mass Layoffs
    • The number of layoff actions involving at least 50 workers from a single establishment in March was 1,571, compared with 1,672 in February. They involved 157,156 workers, compared with 177,374 in February. All numbers are seasonally adjusted. The number of layoffs may have fallen month over month, but are still expected to rise in the coming months as the U.S. labor market remains weak.
    • Chain Store Sales
    • Chain store sales fell 0.7% in the week ending April 19, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Little of the prior week's gain was retained. Year-over-year growth dipped to 1.4%. Weather was reported as neutral for sales; high energy prices were blamed for the weakness.
    • Oil and Gas Inventories
    • Crude oil inventories rose by 2.4 million barrels for the week ending April 18, according to the Energy Information Administration, compared with expectations of a 1.2 million barrel build. Gasoline inventories fell by 3.2 million barrels, below expectations of a 2.3 million barrel decline. Distillate supplies fell by 1.4 million barrels, below the expected 0.3 million barrel decline. Refinery operating capacity soared by over 4 percentage points to 85.6%. This report is bearish.
    • Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report
    • Underground storage of natural gas rose by 24 billion cubic feet during the week ending April 18, below consensus expectations of a 29 bcf build. Total underground storage was 1,285 bcf as of April 18, 274 bcf less than a year ago and 25 bcf below the five-year average for this time of year.

    Source: Economy.com 2008

    • Guitar Center
    • Guitar Center, Inc. trades as Guitar Center at 214 locations nationwide.
    • The stores, selling musical equipment, occupy spaces of 8,000 sq.ft. to 16,000 sq.ft. in power and strip centers as well as freestanding locations.
    • Growth opportunities are sought throughout the existing market during the coming 18 months.
    • Typical leases run 10 years.
    • For more information, contact
      • Joe Fabrocini,
      • Guitar Center, Inc.,
      • 5795 Lindero Canyon Road,
      • West Lake Village, CA 91362;
      • Web site: www.guitarcenter.com
    • Helzberg Diamonds
    • Helzberg Diamond Shops, Inc. trades as Helzberg Diamonds at 268 locations nationwide.
    • The stores, selling fine jewelry, occupy spaces of 1,400 sq.ft. to 1,700 sq.ft. in malls.
    • Growth opportunities are sought throughout the existing market during the coming 18 months.
    • Preferred cotenants include fashion retailers.
    • For more information, contact
      • Ellen Zellemer or
      • Marla Worthington,
      • Helzberg's Diamond Shops, Inc.,
      • 1825 Swift Avenue,
      • North Kansas City, MO 64116;
      • Web site: www.helzberg.com.
    • Jason's Deli
    • Deli Management, Inc. trades as Jason's Deli at 184 locations throughout AL, AR, CA, CO, FL, GA, IA, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, NE, NM, NV, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT and VA.
    • The restaurants occupy spaces of 4,500 sq.ft. to 5,000 sq.ft. in freestanding locations and strip centers.
    • Growth opportunities are sought throughout southern FL; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Charlotte, Raleigh, Carey, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC; SC; Hampton Roads, VA and Washington, DC during the coming 18 months.
    • The company prefers to locate in major metro markets.
    • For more information, contact
      • Greg Messina,
      • Deli Management, Inc.,
      • 2400 Broadway,
      • Beaumont, TX 77702;
      • Web site: www.jasonsdeli.com.
    • Quiznos Sub
    • Quiznos Sub operates 5,000 locations nationwide and internationally.
    • The sandwich shops occupy spaces of 1,100 sq.ft. to 1,700 sq.ft. in malls, lifestyle and strip centers and urban/downtown areas.
    • Plans call for 500 openings throughout the existing markets during the coming 18 months.
    • Typical leases run 10 to 15 years.
    • A vanilla shell is required.
    • Major competitors include Subway.
    • Preferred demographics include a daytime population of 5,000 within one mile.
    • The company is franchising.
    • For more information, contact
      • Brian Belmont,
      • Quiznos Sub,
      • 1475 Lawrence Street, Suite 475,
      • Denver, CO 80202;
      • Web site: www.quiznos.com.

  • T.H. Bell
    • T.H. (Terrel Howard) Bell was born and educated in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. When Bell was eight his father died. Bell graduated from the Albion Normal School in Idaho. After this he served as a school superintendent of various schools in Idaho and Wyoming.
    • Bell spent much of his professional career in Utah. He served as a sergeant in the Marines during World War II, and returned to Idaho to get his education.
    • After earning a B.A. from the Southern Idaho College of Education at Albion in 1946, Bell started a career as a high school teacher and bus driver.
    • He later earned an M.A. from the University of Idaho in 1954, and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Utah in 1961.
    • Prior to serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Reagan, Bell also served as the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education.
    • Appointed last in the Reagan cabinet, Bell was expected to preside over the dismantling of the Department of Education, but ran into the legal requirement that such a dismantling required legislation. He was well known, admired and repected in education circles, having risen from high school teacher through college professor to administrative positions. Bell stood out as a humble man in an administration of moneyed people -- he drove a U- Haul truck from Utah to Washington when he moved, probably the only member of the Reagan cabinet to do so.
    • In 1981, Bell convinced Reagan to appoint a commission to study excellence in education. The 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, titled A Nation at Risk, started the drive for education reform with its conclusions, which included the claim that the nation was threatened by "a rising tide of mediocrity."
    • Though education's importance was highlighted by the reform drive, Reagan continued to try to reduce funding at the Department of Education.
    • Bell served for Reagan's first term, resigning in January 1985.
    • He returned to Utah, and joined the faculty at the University of Utah.
    • In 1988, he published his memoir entitled The Thirteenth Man: A Reagan Cabinet Memoir (ISBN 0-02-902351-3).
    • "There are three things to emphasize in teaching: The first is motivation, the second is motivation, and the third is (you guessed it) motivation." Terrel H. Bell, U.S. Secretary of Education, 1981-1985 (Bell, 1995)
    • Bell died in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 22, 1996.

    Source: Wikipedia

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