September 15th, 1994

WATCH: The $50 Million Gamble

The movement to reform America’s schools began in the early 1980’s. The defining document, “A Nation at Risk,” appeared in April, 1983, with the warning that our schools were “drowning in a rising tide of mediocrity.” Since that report, billions of dollars have been spent in efforts to improve our schools, in successive waves of school reform.

One wave washes over the next, in hopes that each new model will bring better results. However, while the current school reform trend has had some success, studies show that less than 5% of our nation’s high schools have been effectively restructured. In other words, our schools still look and sound very much like those our grandparents attended.

We Americans often ask public schools to perform tasks we are otherwise unwilling to take on. Today our public schools feed, clothe, and deliver health care to a growing number of children. It’s worth remembering that no country in the history of the world has asked its schools to do so much for so many…and that our experiment in mass education has been remarkably successful.

The movement continues, stimulated by the National Education Goals and the Annenberg gift of $500,000,000 to public school reform efforts. Just where reform is heading, and how much progress we make, depends on all of us. We offer this resource list of books, studies and reform movements, to encourage you to get involved in building a better system, and a brighter future.

This documentary (based on three years of videotaping in one high school) details the often painfully slow progress of school reform; teachers and bureaucrats squabble, even as some students are making great progress. It’s the most detailed look at one of the country’s leading education reforms, the Essential Schools Movement, and its founder, Dr. Theodore Sizer.

CNN’s Judy Woodruff called it “Riveting reporting….that powerfully demonstrates at once how hard reform will be and how absolutely necessary it is, if we are to save this and future generations of American youngsters.” The title refers to philanthropist Walter Annenberg’s $50,000,000 gift to the Essential Schools program.

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