- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When it comes to natural disasters, Americans stand at the ready with blood, sweat and money to bail out the needy. Handling crises, we like to say, brings out the best in us all. Wish that were the case regarding education.

We learned a full four generations ago that America was a nation at risk of losing its competitive edge. In fact, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all commissioned reports on public education - an issue long considered a chief domain of states and localities. America failed to follow through, however. Commitment and leadership were lacking.

By the time the Reagan panel issued its 1983 study “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform,” both the quality of teaching and learning had suffered miserably. The panel offered the road from perdition to redemption and actually summed up the problem in a few words: “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.” We took those words lightly.

Now, this from the organization Strong American Schools, which participated yesterday in an Aspen Institute summit on education: “Now is not the time for more educational research or reports or commissions. We have enough commonsense ideas, backed by decades of research, to significantly improve American schools. The missing ingredient isn’t even educational at all. It’s political. Too often, state and local leaders have tried to enact reforms of the kind recommended in ‘A Nation at Risk’ only to be stymied by organized special interests and political inertia. Without vigorous national leadership to improve education, states and local school systems simply cannot overcome the obstacles to making the big changes necessary to significantly improve our nation’s K-12 schools.”

America must bolster its educational foundation. We are also competing on a global stage - one that was practically impossible to envision 40 years ago.

The summit included such notables as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Gov. Roy Romer of Strong American Schools. Thank you, Aspen Institute. What Miss Rice and others said yesterday is vital. But what is done tomorrow and the day after and the weeks and months to come is even more important because America won’t maintain its status as a global leader if our young people are unable to lead.

Excuses no more. Reverse the inertia. All children are born to a certain station in life. But they fall or rise based on a quality education.

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