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Academic News:Education Secretaries Past and Present Give Failing Grades to U.S. School System

IT WAS A RARE MOMENT IN the education world: The last seven secretaries of education convened to assess the country's K-12 and higher education systems and how they need to evolve to better prepare today's students for a rapidly changing economy.

The event, held Thursday in Washington by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute to note the 35th anniversary of the seminal 1983 report "A Nation at Risk," which took the U.S. school system to task for failing to prepare students for an increasingly global economy, drew the well-heeled education policy establishment as well as current and former members of Congress.

But the cabal of secretaries, despite their diverging political preferences, all shared a troubling bipartisan message: The country isn't doing enough to improve education for the majority of students, and the sense of urgency that once bolstered policymakers at the federal and state level to drive change is waning.

"We're still at risk," said Rod Paige, who served as education secretary under President George W. Bush. "Maybe even at greater risk."

Paige recalled how President George H.W. Bush convened an emergency meeting of the nation's governors in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1989 to demand they take more seriously the rigor of academic standards. Paige suggested President Donald Trump do the same thing in order to spur governors to reinvigorate their focus on education and better align curriculums with the needs of the business community, among other things.

President of the University of North Carolina system Margaret Spellings, the second education secretary under George W. Bush, agreed but was quick to note that the current administration is not as keyed into education issues as past administrations have been.

"We don't have a sense of urgency right now," she said. "We all worked for presidents that were really using that national bully pulpit to drive closing the achievement gap and on and on. And I think people are exhausted with education reform or feel like it's not possible to close the achievement gap. So the boulder is drifting back down the hill because of a lack of urgency around the imperative of closing the achievement gap."

President of the University of North Carolina system Margaret Spellings, the second education secretary under George W. Bush, agreed but was quick to note that the current administration is not as keyed into education issues as past administrations have been.

"We don't have a sense of urgency right now," she said. "We all worked for presidents that were really using that national bully pulpit to drive closing the achievement gap and on and on. And I think people are exhausted with education reform or feel like it's not possible to close the achievement gap. So the boulder is drifting back down the hill because of a lack of urgency around the imperative of closing the achievement gap."

(This article is adapted from U.S.News:

https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2018-04-13/education-secretaries-past-and-present-give-failing-grades-to-us-school-system)