In April 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education produced its landmark report on government education, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The highly critical report expressed the views of the commission's 18-member panel that education in America was in serious trouble and that drastic reforms were necessary to revive the faltering school system.
The report noted that the United States was once unchallenged in its "preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation," but that this preeminence had become less and less evident in the late 20th century. The report explained that the causes for America's decline are many, but education is "the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility."
The commission went on to warn that
If an unfriendly 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. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.
Despite the many reform efforts undertaken since the publication of A Nation at Risk nearly 20 years ago, the quality of government education overall has seen little improvement. In fact, the only significant result of the various reform efforts has been greater centralization of government control and skyrocketing increases in education spending. The evidence of a crisis in public education is everywhere.