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Panel Finds 'Modest Progress' Toward National Education Goals

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WASHINGTON--The second annual report on the national education goals for 2000 shows that the nation has made "modest progress'' toward achieving the targets, members of the National Education Goals Panel said here last week.

Presenting some new and revised data released since its first report a year ago, the panel of governors, Bush Administration officials, and members of Congress reported positive trends in high school completion rates, Advanced Placement course enrollments, and student drug and alcohol use.

It also noted that federal spending on programs related to the goals rose by $4.6 billion, to $75 billion, over the past year.

And, the report notes, in that time, the panel has made progress toward developing methods of assessing school readiness, student achievement against national standards, and adult learning.

But the panel also found that, in many ways, the United States lags behind other countries, and it attributed the relatively low levels of performance to a lack of high standards for student achievement.

"We want to create high expectations, great expectations for excellence,'' said Gov. Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, the panel's immediate past chairman. "That's something that's been missing.''

But some educators warned that achieving the goals will require much more than raising expectations and measuring progress.

"Everyone is chomping at the bit because this is just laying down the baseline,'' said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "The real question is, what are the strategies? What are the states and the federal government going to do to achieve the goals?''

Not Last, But Not First

Formed in 1990 by the National Governors' Association, the goals panel was charged with monitoring progress toward the six national education goals set that year by President Bush and the nation's governors.

The goals state that by 2000: all children will start school ready to learn; the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent; students will demonstrate competency in challenging subject matter; students in the United States will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement; every adult will be literate; and every school will be free of drugs and violence.

In its first report, the panel found that the nation appeared far from reaching the six targets. But it also found that, in many key areas, data to assess progress were nonexistent or inadequate.

Over the past year, however, the panel identified additional sources of information on the goals and took steps to develop new measures.

The 1992 report begins, in fact, with a new section showing how American educational performance compares with that of other nations.

Citing data from a range of international studies, the report shows that, on several measures, the United States' performance ranks high. In high school and college completion, basic reading and geography achievement, and mathematics and science degree-granting, it notes, the United States outperforms much of the world.

But, it points out, the United States continues to lag in math achievement as early as the 1st grade, and the high school graduation-rate gap with other nations is closing.

"It's encouraging to know we are not last,'' said Gov. E. Benjamin Nelson of Nebraska, the goals panel's chairman. "The key here is that we want to be first.''

'Stubborn' Graduation Rate

In examining the six education goals, the panel found, as it did last year, that there is as yet no method for directly measuring whether students are ready to start school.

But the data that are available indicate "something we need to be concerned about,'' according to Mr. Campbell.

For example, the report notes, in 1991, fewer than half of all preschoolers were read to daily or were told stories by their parents several times a week, and one-third had been taken to the library during the previous month.

The goal of insuring a 90 percent graduation rate is the one the nation is closest to attaining, Mr. Campbell said.

Nevertheless, the report states, the graduation rate remains "stubbornly consistent'' at 85 percent. And data from a federal survey show that a large proportion of students who drop out between 8th and 10th grades do so for academic reasons, rather than for personal reasons, and that many would return to school if they were provided additional tutoring and assistance.

"Those don't sound like kids who don't care,'' said Gov. Barbara Roberts of Oregon.

Encouraging Data on Drugs

The report also notes, in examining data on student achievement, that the number of students who took áŸðŸ examinations increased between 1991 and 1992, and that nearly two-thirds of them attained scores high enough to earn college credit.

But it states that, despite the increase, only 78 out of every 1,000 11th and 12th graders took the exams.

The report also cites data showing that students seldom participate in community service, a key measure of citizenship.

In some of the most encouraging data in the report, the panel indicates that the use of alcohol and other drugs declined from 1991 to 1992, and that drug use in and out of school has dropped substantially since 1980.

But it also points out that the number of students who reported being threatened with a weapon has increased, and that threats and injuries are more common to younger students than to their older counterparts.

In the section on the federal government's role in meeting the goals, the report states that the total contribution from all agencies in fiscal 1992 was $75 billion, including $17.7 billion for before-school-years programs, $20.3 billion for activities in the school years, and $36 billion for postsecondary programs.

But Keith B. Geiger, the president of the National Education Association, said the figures are misleading, since they include everything from military training to Medicaid.

"Of that $75 billion, elementary and secondary schools get a mere 15 percent of the resources--and about 95 percent of the blame for educational deficiencies,'' he said.

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