Chairing the National Commission on Excellence in Education: A Nation at Risk

From the outset, I knew I must have David Pierpont Gardner, president of the University of Utah, as the chairman…He would not be overpowered by anyone in the federal government nor would he tolerate any interference with the work of the commission.  (United States Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, The Thirteenth Man: A Reagan Cabinet Memoir. New York : Free Press ; London : Collier Macmillan, 1988, p. 117)

[When Secretary Bell called,] I asked him if the following conditions were agreeable:

  • We two would have to agree on the commissioners…
  • There would be no “political litmus test” for candidates, because education should be a nonpartisan issue;
  • Bell would apply no pressure…on any member of the commission in any way whatsoever as to the report’s substance…
  • Funding for the commission’s work would be sufficient to do the job…
  • The president would receive the report…
  • Bell would publish the report on his own authority, whether or not he or the president liked the substance…
  • Bell would take appropriate steps to disseminate the report as widely as possible.

Bell accepted and so did I.

(Earning My Degree, p. 110)


Bell Presenting Nation at Risk to Reagan
Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, President Ronald Reagan, David Gardner, 
White House, Washington, DC, 1983—Photo courtesy of The White House

A Nation at Risk

A Nation at Risk book coverA Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.  A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education United States Department of Education by The National Commission on Excellence in Education, April 1983

Members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education

Charter—Purpose and Functions

7-6-1981—T. H. Bell Memorandum for the Honorable Craig L. Fuller, Director, Office of Cabinet Administration; Subject: Department of Education Effort to Enhance Excellence in Schools

See also Terrel H. Bell, The Thirteenth Man (New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1988).

See also Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 158, 239, 303.

David P. Gardner Commentaries:

Publications and Speeches


Excellence in Education: a Brief Analysis of the Problems,” National Forum, 62, #4 (Fall 1982), 41-42.  A publication of Phi Kappa Phi.

A Time for Re-Examination and Renewal Commitment,” American Education, 18, #7 (August-September, 1982) 31-34

"What Parents Must Do About Our Schools," Ladies' Home Journal (November 1983), reprint.

Fulfilling Our Expectations,” American Education, 20, #2 (March, 1984), 18-19, 22.

Knowledge Is Power,” Science, 224, #4656 (June 29, 1984), 1383.

"Did the Education Commission Make a Difference?" Shield (published by Phillips Petroleum Company) 9, no. 3 (third quarter/October 1984).

“America’s School System Still at Risk,” US News and World Report, May 5, 1986, p. 64.


11-7-1983—“Risking the Future: a Report on Science and Math Education in the Public Schools,” Engineering Alumni Society, Berkeley, California

11-9-1983—Statement to the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, US Senate, on A Nation at Risk, Washington, DC

12-14-1983—“Education in a Technological Economy: Some Observations on the Nation’s Schools,” UCLA Business Forecasting Conference, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

Related Speech:

  • 4-9-1984—“Educational Trends and the Future,” California Manufacturers Association, Sacramento, California

4-6-1984—“Report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education: a Retrospective View,” Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, California

  • Related speech given 5-22-1985 at Eastern Washington University, Spokane, WA

9-11-1985—“The Report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education: How the Nation Responded,” American Academy of Periodontology, San Francisco, California

10-1-1985—Invited testimony on A Nation at Risk, the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, before the House Sub-committee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education and the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities, U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C

4-25-1986—A Nation at Risk Third Anniversary Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah

12-6/10-1986—“The Challenge of School Reform over the Next Decade,” issue paper for States Look to the Future meeting, The Council of State Governments, Orlando, Florida

Selected National Commentaries:

The long-term impact of the report can be gauged from searching website listings for A Nation at Risk at 20 years, at 25 years and at 30 years after publication.

6-2-1983—Allan W. Ostar, President, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, to David P. Gardner

4-30-1998—“Fifteen Years after A Nation at Risk", The Center for Education Reform, prepared for the Fifteen Years and Still a Nation at Risk summit

Center for Education ReformA Nation Still at Risk: an Education Manifesto, April 30, 1998

A Nation Accountable—Twenty-five Years After A Nation at Risk—U.S. Department of Education

What We’re Watching; A Nation at Risk: Thirty Years Later

A Nation at Risk 30 Years Later”—Education Week