Morning Joe, 4/26/13, 8:34 AM ET

From a 'Nation at Risk' to a nation in crisis? A look back at a landmark report

"A Nation at Risk" was a landmark report on education reform commissioned by then-President Ronald Reagan released 30 years ago. Harlem Village Academies...

From ‘A Nation at Risk’ to a nation in ‘crisis’

Updated

America is now a country in crisis because the economy is completely based on education, said Deborah Kenny, chief executive officer of Harlem Village Academies.

A “knowledge economy” currently drives the nation 30 years after then-President Ronald Reagan commissioned a landmark document in education reform. “A Nation at Risk” was a 1983 report that contributed to the idea that American schools were failing the students. The document used standardized test scores to paint a bleak picture of school performance levels.

Today the public is more aware than ever before that education is failing, people demand accountability from educators, and entrepreneurship is at work, Kenny said Friday on Morning Joe. But there is room to improve students’ performances in classrooms.

American 15-year-old students rank No. 14 in reading, No. 17 in science, and No. 25 in math compared to the rest of the world’s children. The country’s education reform is based on a paradigm of controlling teachers with evaluations that reward and punish. But individual teachers cannot be reviewed from an overall government system, she said.

“Everybody has finally agreed that someone does need to be held accountable,” she said. “But the way it’s being executed, I think, is misguided. It’s very top-down and controlling.”

The country needs to move into a new phase that brings out people’s passion and performance and gives them more freedom and autonomy, instead of controlling individuals, said Kenny, who is also the author of Born to Rise. 

“A lot of our states and cities are spending tens of millions of dollars developing curriculum,” she said. “We have to develop people.”

Americans need to adopt a more powerful vision of teaching expectations, said Kenny, who on Friday received the Disruptive Innovation Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. The award honors pioneers and ground-breakers across all fields. HVA became a national model for education reform under Kenny’s leadership. The organization works to help students become intellectually sophisticated and compassionate individuals who make a meaningful contribution to society.

Teachers receive minimal pay for their talent and aren’t always respected by their students, Brian Shactman, a reporter for CNBC, said on the show.

“You have to incentivize people to stay in teaching,” said Shactman, who began his career as a teacher. “I feel like the culture is against teachers right now. It’s not attractive.”

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From 'A Nation at Risk' to a nation in 'crisis'

Updated