"The fate of nations," wrote Aristotle, "depends on the education of the
young." In 1983, the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, handed down a
shocking verdict about the education of America's young: Too many of our public schools
are turning out poorly educated children unable to function as responsible and informed
members of a free society.
The authors of this report observed, "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."
Fifteen years later, little has changed to significantly affect the quality of public
education in America.
We believe the time has come for teachers, parents, and politicians-for all of us who
see the fate of America in the faces of our youth-to demand fundamental reform of our
education system. We must insist that all children have the opportunity to attend
the best schools available, regardless of who manages them.
Our greatest concern is that America is splitting into two classes: educated and not.
We must close this gap at once. Contrary to some of the ideas in vogue today, we're
convinced that raising the bar is the fastest way to narrow the gap. If it is still true
that "knowledge is power," then the best way to empower our children is to give
them the advantages of a knowledge-based education. We must also ensure that their
teachers are equipped to help them get over the bar, not continue to lower it for them out
of mistaken compassion.
To this end, we must free teachers from restrictive rules, regulations, and mandates
that require the use of unproven theories and the uncalled-for agendas being forced on
them by distant bureaucrats and special interest groups. Teachers should not be surrogate
parents, social workers, or "change agents." Teachers should be supported and
encouraged in what they do best: teaching.
We believe the solutions to the problems that plague our public schools should include
The restoration of proven traditional curricula and shared civic values;
The end of bureaucratic interference with the right of individual teachers to maintain a
disciplined and scholarly atmosphere in their own classrooms;
The transformation of the major teacher organizations from political labor unions back
into professional associations; and
The end of a monopoly in schooling that stifles innovation, discourages choice, resists
change, claims all children as its wards by right, and ignores the cries of parents
dismayed by its ineffectiveness and rigidity.
In order to further educational goals, improve curricula, and obtain the highest
student achievement we recommend the following standards and reforms:
High school graduates should be able to read, write, do math, draw on a definite body of
knowledge, think logically and analytically, and discern right from wrong, to the end that
they are culturally literate, employable, and able to function as autonomous, productive,
and trustworthy individuals and citizens.
Whereas phonics and deep immersion in texts drawn from our American heritage and world
literature are the unavoidable foundation of literacy, direct instruction in grammar,
spelling, and syntax, plus regular writing assignments and teacher feedback are all
necessary elements in the successful teaching of writing skills, and memorization and
mastery of basic mathematics are essential to problem solving. All should therefore be
re-emphasized in our schools.
In order to promote fiscal responsibility, sound governance of schools, and parental
involvement, we recommend the following concepts and reforms:
Schools should exist to serve students. Local leaders, educators, and parents must be
empowered to help select the curricula, methods, and schools that best meet each student's
Students should have the broadest possible access to the widest diversity of educational
opportunities regardless of family income.
All educational systems must be free to operate without bureaucratic restrictions that
limit the effectiveness of both public and nonpublic schools.
In order to improve the professional training and effectiveness of teachers we
recommend the following concepts and reforms:
Teacher training should be continuous throughout teachers' careers and would be best
based in the local schools and communities in which they teach.
Potential teachers should, if possible, be recruited from and trained in the local
communities their schools serve.
Teachers must accept accountability for their part in students' learning.
In order to promote teacher autonomy, we recommend the following concepts and reforms:
Eliminate monopoly bargaining, exclusive representation, and compulsory
unionism, in order to increase accountability and choice for professional educators.
End the state-sanctioned special privileges that have been granted to teacher unions
that are often used to block education reform.
Empower and encourage educators to take responsibility for themselves, for their
profession, and their professional organizations.
We also believe that before any dramatic improvement can be made in our students' test
scores as compared with other nations, it is essential that all teachers be more
knowledgeable in their subjects, teacher colleges and preparation schools require as
rigorous a curriculum as other disciplines, high schools require students be ready for
high school-level work, all schools end social promotions, and all schools expect more
from our children. Anything less will continue to short-circuit the reform process.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we believe that "good character" must
be restored to its historical place as a central desirable outcome of the public school
enterprise. It is inadequate and irresponsible merely to concentrate on raising academic
standards. Raising our moral standards will be the greatest gift we can give America's
children. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom;
nothing is more important for public wealth than to form and train up youth in wisdom and
It is time for a change in leadership. Those presently in control of the education
system have run short of ideas except to lobby continually for more money. Do we need to
repair our eroding school buildings, buy more books and computers, and redesign and
improve teacher compensation in order to attract and keep the best teachers? Of course we
do. However, until there are systemic changes, most education dollars will never
get to where they can do the most good: the classrooms of America.
The signers below represent active classroom teachers, former educators, and concerned
citizens across America who have come together to address the lack of urgency in reforming
our educational system.
We will be offering specific recommendations for reform and invite fellow educators,
education reformers, and business leaders to join with us in rebuilding our educational
system for our children's sake and for America's sake.
Presented to the American people September 22, 1998, in Washington D. C.