One of the most public concerned a 1988 report by a 40-member blue-ribbon bipartisan study commission formed by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the American Council on Education to examine the status of minority participation in education and American life. As chair of ECS’s board, John Ashcroft also sat on the study commission, whose report, "One Third of a Nation," concluded that America was moving backwards in its efforts to achieve full participation by minority citizens. Ashcroft and Former Secretary of State William Rogers were the only two study commission members who refused to sign the report. Ashcroft stated that he thought it was too negative and placed too much emphasis on federal programs. Other Republicans who signed the report included former President Gerald Ford, Former Education Secretary Terrell Bell, and Governor Thomas Kean of New Jersey. Other Commission members included, for example, John Jacob of the Urban League, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Rev. Timothy Healy, and Coretta Scott King.
Ashcroft’s refusal to sign the report generated significant criticism, particularly among African Americans, who also voiced other concerns about the governor’s record on and sensitivity towards minority concerns. The leader of black legislators in the Missouri House, Rep. O.L. Shelton, said Ashcroft’s actions revealed that the governor was "totally ignorant of the reality of race problems in the U.S. and especially in Missouri," and that it appeared that his "mind frame is that of a traditional white southerner during the ‘60s and ‘50s." Columbia Daily Tribune, May 24, 1988. Shelton also contended that Ashcroft had failed to listen to complaints by black legislators and that "[h]e’s just given us a dumb ear," a claim denied by Ashcroft’s spokesman. St. Louis Post-Dispatch May 25, 1988. State Senator John Bass called Ashcroft’s refusal to sign the report an affront to efforts to improve race relations in Missouri. The Columbia Missourian accused Ashcroft of "denying reality." Columbia Missourian, May 29, 1988.