In this report by NPR journalist Anya Kamenetz, we learn that the famous 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” we learn that the Reagan-era Commission “cooked the books.” Kamenetz interviewed two of the original commission members and learned that the commission knew its conclusion in advance, then cherry-picked facts to prove its claim that the schools were ”mired in mediocrity.”

She writes:

“In the context of declining resources and rising child poverty, maintaining steady or slightly improving test scores over decades could be described with other words besides “flat” and “disappointing” — perhaps “surprising” or “heroic.”

“But the narrative established by “A Nation At Risk” still seems to be the one that dominates how we think of the data.

“[Professor James] Guthrie, for one, thinks that’s been, on balance, a good thing, because it brought education to the front and center of the U.S. agenda.

“My view of it in retrospect,” he says, “is seldom, maybe never, has a public report been so wrong and done so much good.”

My view: The militaristic tone of the report created a false sense of panic, based on distorted facts. The report promoted a wrong-headed narrative that encouraged politicians to engage in grandstanding and in frankly destructive forays into education policy. It shifted control of education policy from educators to uninformed politicians. It created a political demand for standards and testing, while pointedly ignoring the growing proportion of children living in poverty. Since poverty is the root cause of low test scores, this was a strategy guaranteed to fail.

Nothing good came of this foray into policy making by propaganda.