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"Christine borrows $850 for one year from the Friendly Finance Company. If she pays 12% simple interest on the loan, what will be the total amount that Christine repays?"

That is not the sort of question that ought to stump many people. Yet according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in 1988 only six percent of the nation's 11th graders were able to solve mathematical problems at this moderate level of difficulty. Six out of 100. After more than a decade of efforts to reform the nation's schools, and eight years after the National Commission on Excellence in Education's famous alarm, A Nation at Risk,it would be nice to be able to take up the time-honored theme of "crisis and renewal." But as the insoluble question posed by the case of the Friendly Finance Company suggests, there has not yet been much of a renewal.

That is not because we have ignored our shortcomings. During the last decade, national leaders such as Secretary of Education William J. Bennett took to the bully pulpit to rouse the public. Americans were bombarded by alarming news stories and reports of gloomy studies on the nation's front pages and TV news broadcasts. An "excellence movement" was born, and it inspired many reform efforts around the country. Governors and legislators began to shake off the old taboo against "tampering" with the schools, pushing a variety of reforms long resisted by many education professionals. Dozens of communities launched school innovations. But it wasn't enough. The system's vital signs, as measured by test scores and other indicators, remained flat. Things got no worse, but they didn't get better, either. Before venturing any new therapies, then, it would be prudent to take a full case history of the patient.

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