An April 2008 Example of Hiding America’s Dirty Little Secret

A very damning report on American education was issued in April 2008 by the U.S.Department of Education, titled “A Nation Accountable.” For many years I have read the newspaper and watched TV new every day, and I saw no reference to this report. The report may have circulated in some governmental circles, but the report was apparently never shown to the American public. Unless you carefully examined this report, the seriousness of the problem of American education — particularly the problem of teaching reading — you probably do not know that the twenty-five year follow-up to the 1983 A Nation At Risk report showed no overall statistically significant improvement. This blog will quote some of the highlights of the report so you can better understand our present problems with American education. You are urged to follow this link to see the entire 25 page report.

“Executive Summary: “If we were ‘at risk’ in 1983, we are at even greater risk now. The rising demands of our global economy, together with demographic shifts, require that we educate more students to higher levels than ever before. Yet, our education system is not keeping pace with these growing demands

. . . . We simply cannot return to the “ostrich approach” and stick our heads in the sand while grave problems threaten our education system, our civic society, and our economic prosperity. We must consider structural reforms that go well beyond current efforts, as today’s students require a better education than ever before to be successful.”

Introduction:  In the spring of 1983, the National Commission of Excellence in Education issued A Nation At Risk — its eye-opening report that indicted education officials, school leaders, and the American public for complacency. The university presidents, eminent scientists, policymakers, and educators who made up the Commission refused to paint a happy face on the eroding quality of American education. They said that we had become self-satisfied about our leading position in the world and ‘lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectation and disciplined effort needed to attain them.’

1. How Far We’ve Come: Curriculum Content: . . . by 2005 almost 65 percent of high school graduates were taking the recommended course work — four times the rate that students took the recommended course work in 1983. Yet, while we have coma a long way, it is a national shame that nearly a third of our high school student still do not take the rigorous program of study recommended in 1983 for all students. . . .

“The Commission was disturbed by the easy courses and ‘curricular smorgasbord’ available to high school students. Unfortunately, this has not changed greatly. Both easy courses and this smorgasbord still remain, with diluted content now hiding behind inflated course names. . . .the reading scores of 20 students born in 1983, who turned 17 in 2000, would have been the same as those of a similar group of students who turned 17 in 1984. . . .

A Nation At Risk anticipated that our secondary schooling deficiencies could eventually threaten the quality of the entire K-12 system, and this [No Child Left Behind] legislation has generated data that, unfortunately, confirm this threat.

1. How Far We’ve Come: Standards and Expectations: {T}eaching materials that are demonstrably effective are still rare.

        “1. How Far We’ve Come: Time: In 1983, the Commission was concerned that American children spent less time in school than children in other countries. . . . However, our children do not spend more days in school than they did in 1983, save for those in some charter schools or in a few state or local pilot programs. . . . Nonetheless we are spending fewer hours per week on academic subjects and have a shorter school year than many other industrialized countries.

“1. How Far We’ve Come: Teacher Quality: While most teachers have taken steps necessary to meet their states’ Highly Qualified Teacher definition, there is little evidence to conclude that his provision has led to notable increases in the requisite subject-matter knowledge of teachers or to increases in measure of individual teacher effectiveness. . . .

        “Progress has . . . been made on recommendations that required real change, if they were supported by powerful political groups in education, especially teachers’ unions. . . . Virtually no progress has been made on recommendations that required real change if they were opposed by the same interest groups. For example, merit pay for teachers remains negligible, and the school year has not lengthened.

“1. How Far We’ve Come: Leadership and Financial Support: [T]he Commission stressed the importance of providing the resources such a system would require. As they noted, ‘Excellence costs. But in the long run mediocrity costs far more.

        “II. What Has Been the Result of These Efforts and, More Importantly, Are We Still At Risk? In 1983, we faced a grave risk of losing our leading position in the world, the Commission warned. We had little idea of how we were doing, and we were happily complacent in assuming that we had, and would continue to have, the best schools money could buy. The report challenged this illusion and forced us to recognize the profound deficiencies in our educational system. In the last two decades, policymakers have worked to develop measurement systems that obviate the need for another such surprising report and that keep the country aware of the challenges we face

“As a result of No Child Left Behind, we now have annual test score data on students in reading and math from the third grade through the eighth grade and one in high school. We are able to see how well each of the approximately 96,000 public schools in our country is performing, not just overall but also for each group of students a school serves, such as minority students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. We have transformed ourselves from a nation at risk of complacency to a nation that is accountable and at work on its education weaknesses. We now know the daunting scope of the problem — and must enlist everyone to address weaknesses if we are to make progress up the mountain. . . .

“American education outcomes on international comparisons have not improved significantly since the 1970s. International tests show that the United States is, at best, runing in place, while other nations are passing us by.. Many countries now match or exceed us, not only in the number of years their children attend school but also in how much those children learn. The United States was the world leader in high schoold completion, but among our 25-34 year olds, it has now slipped to 10th place, falling behind such countries as Canada, Switzerland, and South KOrres. It may fall farther behind yet. The same is true for achievement. On most international tests, the United States is standing still while others are gaining ground. With performance like this, it’s no wonder that most foreign children studying in the United States find our schools easier than the ones they left back home — despite the fact that Americans spend more money per student than almost any other country in the world.

“III. Remaining Challenges: On a strictly domestic level our performance at the high schoollevel is as alarming s it was at the time of A Nation At Risk, if not worse. Of major concern here is the number of students dropping out of school before getting their high school diplomas. States and districts have used a varietyof way to measure graduation rates, pointing to the need for more accuracy and consistencyin these calculations. Some of these methods are misleading, and result in numbers near 90 percent. :However, a more accurate measure is the percentage of student who graduate after starting ninth grade four years earlier — which is only 70 percent for the class of 2006.

        “The situation is even more troubling for minority students in the inner cities. Half of them do not graduate from high school on time — a staggering fact. . . . It is sobering to realize that iin 2006, nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts over the age of 25 were either unemployed or not participating in the workforce at all.

“Educational quality directly affects individual earnings, and dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public relief, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, or single parents. High school dropouts, on average, earn $8,100 less per year than high school graduates, and about $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates. On an annual basis, the median income for those with a college degree was over $51,000 in 2007, while for high school dropouts it was only $22,000. [precisely: dropouts: $22,256, high school graduates: $31,408, college graduates: $51,324]

“But the tragedy is not a burden of the individual alone. High dropout rates also affect our communities and the nation because of the loss of productive workers and the higher costs associated with increased incarceration, health care and social services. A report noted, ‘Four out of every 10 young adults (ages 16-24) lacking a high school diploma received some [sort of public relief] in 2001.’ This report also noted, ‘. . . a dropout is more than eight times as likely tob in jal or prison as a person with at least a high school diploma.’

“IV. Looking Ahead: While we are no longer complacent or idle, we continue to face many challenges, several of which did not even exist in 1983. The standards and accountability movement has resulted in new transparency in student achievement — by grade, subgroup, and subject, and by school, district, and state. While we are finally capable of defining our difficulties, the full solutions to some of them have not yet been found. Where solutions have been found,  they have not been put fully in place because not everyone is willing to accept and make the changes that are necessary. . . .

        “Schools today must not only keep pace with rapid advances in technology (which are slowly changing the way students and teachers learn and interact) but also work to address increasing threats to school safety. . . . We know, from emerging research on schools in Illinois and Florida, that students who attend charter middle and high schools have been substantially more likely to graduate with a standard diploma and attend college than their counterparts in traditional public schools. . . .

“Furthermore, the magnitude of our problems in secondary education is becoming increasingly clear. Our high schools have not improved enough since A Nation At Risk. . . .

        “Education makes not only the individual better off but also the society.”


Note that although reading is the foundation of all learning in schools — it is required for class-work, homework, and testing, in almost every subject — the graph above shows that the reading scores of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds have been essentially flat from 1984 to 2004 while the cost per pupil has gone from $5,896 to $9,116.

About bcenglis

Bob Cleckler is a retired Chemical Engineer. In 1985 he read Jonathan Kozol's shocking new book, "Illiterate America." He decided to use his research skills as an engineer to see if there was a solution to the problem. He spent more than a year in his research. He read EVERY book he could find on the subject of his research. He read dozens of books from the large Marriott Research Library at the University of Utah. Based upon his findings, he developed a solution to the problem of English illiteracy. It is a PROVEN solution. Dr. Frank Laubach spent his entire adult life teaching adult illiterates around the world how to read in more than 300 alphabetic languages. Dr. Laubach proved that he could teach students, in 98% of the languages in which he taught, to read fluently in less than three months. His books, "Teaching the World to Read" and "Forty Years With the Silent Billion," never mention being unable to teach ANY of his students to read fluently.

Cleckler collaborated with Gary Sprunk, M.S. English Linguistics, to perfect his solution based upon Dr. Laubach's experience and findings. Two non-profit educational corporations were formed. Cleckler is the CEO of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and Vice Pres. of R & D of NuEnglish, Inc. Gray Sprunk is President of NuEnglish, Inc. Cleckler's award-winning book, "Let's End Our Literacy Crisis," originally published in 2005 is now available on our website,, without cost or obligation for the Second Revision, released in late 2012. This breakthrough book covers:

A. the tremendous need for improving English literacy. Cleckler found research proving (1) that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate, defined as being unable to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job, (2) that 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and (3) that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other causes combined. Furthermore he found at least 34 types of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that illiterates must endure every day of their lives that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Cleckler also found that illiteracy costs EVERY U.S. adult -- readers and non-readers -- an average of more than $5,000 each year for government programs that illiterates use; for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy; and for the higher cost of consumer goods due to illiterates in the labor pool and in the workforce.

B. the causes of illiteracy. Before any problem can be solved, you must find the cause. Otherwise you can spend huge amounts of money fighting the symptoms of the problem without preventing the problem from recurring.

C. the preferred, proven solution to the problem. We have been fighting the symptoms of the difficulty in learning to read English for almost a century. Although numerous changes in American education have been implemented in the last century, none of them solve the foundational cause of the problem. Almost half of U.S. students never become fluent readers, and most of the ones who do become fluent readers require at least two years to learn to read well enough to continue increasing their reading skills after third grade, when most reading instruction in school ends.

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