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25 Years After A Nation at Risk: Returning to President Reagan's Vision for American Education

Recorded on April 22, 2008

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium

Twenty-five years ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued the landmark "A Nation at Risk" report, highlighting the serious crisis existing in American education.  "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today," the Commission warned, "we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

After a quarter century of reforms and increased government involvement in education, American education remains in a state of crisis.  National test scores reveal that millions of children continue to pass through the nation's public schools without receiving a quality education.  In many of our largest cities, fewer than half of all students graduate high school.  This failure imposes great costs - on students, families, and our communities - and even imperils our future national prosperity and security.

When the report was released in 1983, President Reagan outlined a bold vision for reforming education.  He called for increasing parental choice, limiting federal government involvement, and restoring state and local control in education.  But conventional wisdom and education reforms have followed a different path over the past quarter-century - increasing federal authority and expanding government control of education.  Today, educational failure seems to be as persistent as communism once appeared to be.  President Reagan's strategic vision conquered communism, and it's time we revisit his wisdom for education policy as well.