The Public Interest

The real world of urban education

Nathan Glazer

Winter 1992

WE ARE NOW in the eighth year of a fever of concern about the quality of American education that has been unparalleled in the history of the republic. We can date it from the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, though of course the concern was evident for decades before: When, after all, have we been satisfied with the quality of our education? Yet the present situation is unique: The president has met with all the governors, for only apparently the third time in our history, to set national goals for American education. These goals are to be achieved in a mere eight years, by the year 2000, and if past record is any guide they will for the most part remain elusive. The fever of concern is maintained by the steady evidence of American educational inadequacy as compared with the record of foreign nations, and by the relative decline of American economic power in an age when natural resources—in which we are still preeminent—are much less important than human resources. The concern stimulates a flow of reportage and analysis that tells us much about American education, but does little to set out a common course we can all agree on.  A Nation at Risk did not do so; the national goals set by the President and the governors for the year 2000 do not do so. And even the well-informed Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Assistant Secretary of Education for Educational Research and Improvement, is somewhat chary when it comes to specifics as to what should be done and what can be done in his new book, We Must Take Charge: Our Schools and Our Future.

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