November 26, 2023

Nancy Bailey: 41 Ways a Big Lie Continues to Haunt America’s Public Schools

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Nancy Bailey takes a look back at A Nation at Risk and its many harmful effects on education in the U.S. Reposted by permission. 

Forty years ago, Americans learned of A Nation at Risk, the troubling and mostly bogus report by the Reagan administration claiming public schools and teachers failed to produce students who were capable American workers.

Berliner’s and Biddle’s The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools disproved the report, but it still haunts us today like a never-ending loop Americans can’t jump off of.

Here’s how. It directly or indirectly…

  1. disgraces America’s students, parents, and teachers by obsessing over questionable high-stakes standardized tests that make students look like they failed.

  2. remakes schools to focus on corporate and not student needs and drives children as young as middle school to focus on career choice.

  3. removes teacher autonomy, driving great teachers out of the classroom, ignoring their professionalism, seeking cheaper replacements, and never paying them what they’re worth.

  4. unnecessarily makes U.S. education look substandard to other countries despite America’s students being some of the most innovative in the world (Baeder, 2012).

  5. ignores student individuality and strengths, driving the idea that all students must master the same standards and learn the same way, or they have failed.

  6. overly focuses on reading and math, removes the arts from poor schools, or relies on outside nonprofits for some art for lucky schools, and, gives little attention to geography, history, science, civics, etc.,

  7. leads to defunding schools with Americans who have come to believe that we throw money at public schools, without understanding how schools are funded or who gets school funds.

  8. creates an overreliance on business partnerships and social impact bonds, and opens the door to the business roundtable and groups like the Chamber of Commerce critical of public schools (Bridwell-Michell, 2019).

  9. raises academic expectations, ignoring what’s been learned about child development, even for the youngest learners in preschool and kindergarten. making them fail, and focuses on a tougher preschool instead of good, affordable, and available childcare for all.

  10. overemphasizes homework, often busy work, even for young children, carrying cumbersome back packs, though research shows it isn’t necessary.

  11. gives little attention to the kinds of curriculum needed by students with high intelligence, or their identification especially if they’re poor, instead gives them lackluster pull-out programs that don’t address a child’s individual needs.

  12. reduces or eliminates recess and adds more schoolwork, ignoring the importance of unstructured play to learning, creating nonprofits to charge schools for teaching children how to play.

  13. continues to keep students segregated, and highlights student differences in whatever form as to maintain separateness, but highlights equity talk.

  14. drives negative “must fix it” policy apparent in titles: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, and Raise the Bar: Lead the World campaign.

  15. turns high school over to a standardized, substandard profiting nonprofits, that pushes students to take college coursework in order to avoid some of the later costs.

  16. makes unrealistic and unkept promises destined to fail, like stating that all children will read by 2014, implying that school reformers have found the secret sauce for learning, but they never do.

  17. drives a public school failure narrative in the media, with repeated calls for closing the gap, often ignoring social problems, and the effects of poverty on learning.

  18. tracks student data for commercial purposes and for future career profiling, while heavily relying on costly and unproven resources from outside companies.

  19. lacks school building upkeep, sometimes resulting in dangerous exposure like asbestos and lead exposure while building new schools that focus on technology, not teachers.

  20. ignores unmanageable class sizes or how to improve teacher conditions, and also does little to address school safety.

  21. gives leadership positions to those without good qualifications because they will work to disrupt schools and create privatized school districts.

  22. drives the IDEA reauthorization changes, eliminating special education services, and remaking special education teacher education to defund special education altogether.

  23. creates a rift between teachers and parents to drive parents to seek unproven charters or vouchers, with unfair and unproven promises that this will be better.

  24. reduces concern for collectively caring for all children, dividing rich and poor students, and increasing the gap that’s supposed to be eliminated.

  25. emphasizes the same objectives for all children while pretending to promote differentiation and Individual Educational Plans.

  26. unfairly evaluates teachers and blames them for poor student performance based on questionable high-stakes standardized test scores.

  27. promotes the idea that teacher degrees don’t make a difference, that they and their university education schools fail, and many corporations highlight groups like Teach for America trained for five weeks.

  28. drives the educational ideas of billionaires, individuals with no teaching background, sought after to fund programs, without having to pay a fair share of taxes.

  29. works to destroy or change the face of school boards for privatization by coordinating who is placed on the board, stealing the voice of the people.

  30. disrupts instruction and school programming with the promises of unproven technology, ultimately replacing teachers (Christensen et al, 2010).

  31. permits, even promotes, harmful and unnecessary retention on a massive scale, which is known to create dropouts, and which goes far to drive parents out of public schools.

  32. does little to hire more support staff like counselors, school nurses or school psychologists to address the real mental health needs of children (St. George, 2023).

  33. removes school libraries and librarians, especially in poor schools, ignoring the research showing their importance, while emphasizing that children continue to do poorly learning to read.

  34. opens the door to costly, unaccountable charters run by business people and not teachers, which involved the original plan of charter school creator Ray Budde.

  35. destroys Separation of Church and State, permitting religious schools to obtain vouchers, and some charters are created by religious groups (Meckler & Natanson, 2023).

  36. over emphasizes character training or social-emotional learning collecting sensitive data.

  37. closes traditional public or charter schools, driving students into overcrowded situations, or abruptly closes charter schools disrupting student learning.

  38. overly emphasizes technology pushing programs on school districts even for young children with little proof these programs work.

  39. ignites the reading wars with the idea that there’s a crisis, and opens doors for corporations to replace teachers with technology.

  40. fails to evaluate questionable Common Core State Standards, welcoming the ideas of outside Think Tanks run by people without education experience or study.

  41. turns higher education into a business and makes it unaffordable, and permits politicians to conveniently ignore important education topics.

We need to finally move away from the repetitive negative rhetoric of A Nation at Risk. 


Berliner, D. C., &  Biddle, B. J., (1995). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Baeder, J. (2012, Oct. 22) Why U.S. schools are simply the best. Education Week. Retrieved from

Bridwell-Mitchell, E. N. (2019). Them that’s got?: How school partnerships can perpetuate inequalities. Phi Delta Kappan100(8), 32–36.

Christensen, C., Johnson, C., and Horn, M. (2010). Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.  New York: McGraw Hill.

St. George, D. (2019, August 31). In a crisis, schools are 100,000 mental health staff short. The Washington Post, Retrieved from

Meckler, L. & Natanson, H. (2023, February 8). More states are paying to send children to private and religious schools. The Washington Post, Retrieved from 

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