When states raise the number of math classes they require students to take in high school, black students complete more math coursework—and boost their earnings as a result. That’s the topline takeaway from new research by Joshua Goodman, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
To understand the results, it’s helpful to have a little background. During the 1980s, a now-famous report called “A Nation at Risk” by Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education opened this way:
Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, 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 a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur–others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.
A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform is the 1983 report of American President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. Its publication is considered a landmark event in modern American educational history. Among other things, the report contributed to the ever-growing assertion that American schools were failing, and it touched off a wave of local, state, and federal reform efforts.
The commission consisted of 18 members, drawn from the private sector, government, and education. The chair of the commission was David Pierpont Gardner. Secretary of Education T. H. Bell sought to have the commission be presidentially appointed. Reagan did not concur, and Bell used his own authority as Secretary to establish the commission and appoint its members.
As implied by the title of the report, the commission’s charter responds to Terrel Bell’s observation that the United States’ educational system was failing to meet the national need for a competitive workforce. Among other things, the charter required the commission to assess the “quality of teaching and learning” at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels, in both the public and private spheres and to compare “American schools and colleges with those of other advanced nations.” The report was primarily authored by James J. Harvey, who synthesized the feedback from the commission members and the memorable language in the opening pages: “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 a people” and “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.”
Presidential commissions on education have been relatively common since The Truman Report in 1947. Other notable groups include Dwight Eisenhower’s “Committee on Education Beyond the High School” (1956), John F. Kennedy’s Task Force on Education (1960), and George W. Bush’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, also known as the Spellings Commission, which produced “A Test of Leadership” (2006). (Wikipedia).