1977 College Board report “On Further Examination” examined
the dramatic decline in SAT scores between 1963 and
1977. There had been a 49-point drop. While there was
an increase in test-takers each year, from 2.7 million
to 4.2 million students, cutting deeper into the student
pool was only a minor reason for the decline. The standards
did not change. The student population remained 11th
and 12th grade students. The study pointed to “more
pervasive forces” and “national disruption.”
the early 1960s, the U.S. was “riding high.” President
Kennedy had announced we were going to the moon. Most
little kids wanted to be an astronaut.
there were three terrible assassinations in a row: President
John Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and civil rights
giant Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vietnam War worsened.
A a national malaise set in. The SAT has been re-normed
but we have never returned to those high scores.
had been an “Era of Camelot.” Beatles music was in the
background. We were determined to go the moon. As a
teenager of that generation, I saw the spirit that NASA
challenge gave to us. All of America was glued to the
television set as Walter Cronkite described each launch.
There was the elation of watching the first moon walk.
And the patching of Apollo 13 to safely return from
a fuel cell explosion in distant space—that was heroic!
generation was inspired. We may not have all wanted
to be astronauts, but we all bathed in a national atmosphere
of striving for something great in life. We were a country
united for a common higher purpose. America had spirit.
Not everyone’s life was getting better year-by-year,
but we believed our children would have a better life
because we were reaching for greater things.
in the decades since, house-to-house surveys showed
that Americans slowly lost that dream. Today, the majority
of Americans do not believe that our children will have
a better life. Some politicians are crying that President
Obama is leading the U.S. into decline. But this decline
began way before the 2001 stock market downturn or today’s
the last space shuttle lands, an American astronaut
will have to hitch-hike on a Russian rocket. President
Barack Obama has ditched NASA plans to return to the
moon or Mars; the U.S. can no longer afford it. It will
be a blow to the American spirit. I expect SAT scores
to drop again.
when I travel to China each summer to work with their
science teacher trainers, I again see this spirit that
the U.S. had in the 1960s. The Chinese look forward
to a tomorrow that will be better than today, because
today is better than yesterday, and measurably so, even
in the midst of this economic downturn. They have bridged
this Great Recession not only due to a massive financial
stimulus from Beijing, but also because the populace
is riding high on spirit. They launched their first
astronaut in October 2003 with their own design of rocket
and a Russian capsule. They launched a 2-man mission
in 2005. They conducted a space walk on their 2008 mission.
we mothball our shuttles, China is hyped about heading
into space. Maybe they will see a 49-point increase
on their SAT-like tests.
in the parade of life, the band playing “U.S.A. We’re
number One!” is fading around the bend, while a new
band playing “P.R.C. We’re number One” is appearing
up the street.
would hold out hope of turning this around if there
were any positive signs of a renewed spirit. But with
Washington DC deadlocked, parties polarizing, and everyone
pointing fingers and blaming others, there is nothing
at the national level for our students to believe in.
landing of that last Space Shuttle–scheduled for October
2011—will be a sad moment indeed.