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Nation Still Falling Short of Education Goals, Report Finds

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WASHINGTON--For the second year in a row, the annual report on the national education goals shows that the nation is making only "modest progress'' toward meeting those targets by 2000.

The two-volume report, containing a mixture of new and revised data, was unveiled here last week by the National Education Goals Panel. The panel of governors, members of Congress, and federal officials is charged with tracking progress toward the goals.

On the positive side, the report points out that more high school students are taking Advanced Placement examinations and a majority of them are scoring high enough on them to earn college credit.

In addition, the percentage of students who drop out between the 10th and 12th grades has been nearly cut in half over the past decade, and student drug and alcohol use is down.

Those improvements are somewhat overshadowed, however, by the report's more negative findings.

The report says that nearly half of all infants are born with one or more "risk factors'' that potentially mark them for school failure later on. Literacy levels are declining among young adults. And, at no point in their school careers, the report points out, are American students doing as well as they should be in mathematics or reading.

"In the last three years we have not made substantial progress in meeting the goals,'' said Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, a panel member. "But at least we know what we need to do now to make that progress.''

Reasons for Hope

Panel members said they were optimistic about future educational progress for three reasons. For one, more and better indicators of such progress are becoming available. Second, national standards for what students should know and be able to do in core academic areas are nearing completion. And, finally, new surveys show that public support for reforming schools is growing.

A separate survey released last week by the Educational Excellence Partnership, a business-sponsored group, suggests that 70 percent of Americans disagree with the statement "Some schools need improvement but not mine.'' This is a turnaround from earlier surveys in which most participants tended to express satisfaction with their neighborhood schools.

"I predict in the last five years [of this century] you're going to see an almost exponential increase in the rate of improvement,'' said Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. of Maine, the panel's chairman for 1993-94.

Some educators, however, said the report suggests instead that federal and national strategies for improving education are not enough.

"We've had these alarm bells for four or five years now and the issue is what action is to be taken,'' said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "We'd better be talking about what it takes to increase money for those that are underserved.''

Ready or Not?

President Bush and the nation's governors set the six national education goals in 1990.

They 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 competence in challenging subject matter; students in the United States will be first in the world in mathematics and science; every adult will be literate; and every school will be free of drugs and violence.

The goals panel's first report, in 1991, found that the nation had far to go in reaching the targets. But data to measure that progress were nonexistent or inadequate.

This year's report, the panel's third, contains much more data, drawing on more than 40 studies by 15 federal agencies.

Some of the newer data have come in assessing progress in reaching the first goal--insuring that children start school ready to learn. While there is as yet no method for directly measuring school readiness, the report begins with a new child-health index that flags potential problems in this area.

It shows that 45 percent of all infants born in this country in 1990 had one or more "risk factors'' for school failure. These include late or no prenatal care, a mother who smoked or drank alcohol during pregnancy, and low maternal weight gain.

Moreover, nearly 37 percent of all 2-year-olds have not been fully immunized for childhood diseases. And only half of all preschoolers are read to daily by their parents.

Looking at older children, the report notes that fewer than one out of five students in grades 4 and 12 meet the goals panel's standard for math achievement. In reading, that standard is met by only one out of every four students. Students who meet the panel's achievement standards are those who scored at the "proficient'' or "advanced'' levels on 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in those subject areas. (See Education Week, Sept. 22, 1993.)

Some of the report's more disturbing findings come in the area of school violence. Ten percent of 10th graders say they have brought a weapon to school at least once in the previous year, and more than one-third of all students say that other students at their school belong to gangs.

The decline in student drug and alcohol use continues a more positive trend that started in the early 1980's. Yet alcohol use is still widespread, with more than three-fourths of high school seniors reporting having used it in the previous year.

The report also notes that nearly half of all high school seniors took part in community service last year.

State-by-state comparisons are presented in the second volume of the report.

Copies of the "National Education Goals Report'' and its summary guide are available free of charge from the National Education Goals Panel, 1850 M St., N.W., Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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