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Goals 2000 Fails To Gain Firm Foothold

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Tenth in an occasional series.


In the 15 turbulent months since the Clinton Administration launched the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the initiative has earned plaudits from fans and angry scorn from enemies--even though most observers agree that it is too early to assess its true impact.

Despite federal officials' emphasis on state and local reforms, the program at the heart of the Administration's education agenda has become a battleground in the war over the federal role in education. To conservatives, in particular, Goals 2000 is a symbol of creeping federal encroachment on the tradition of local control of schools.

And despite widespread participation--47 states are on board, two others have declared an intention to apply, and dozens of school districts are already using money provided under the law--Goals 2000 has yet to gain a firm foothold among politicians or the public.

"Goals 2000 right now is a changing picture," said Diane Ravitch, a nonresident senior fellow with the Washington-based Brookings Institution and a former Education Department official in the Bush Administration. "It's hard to evaluate."

The law is new, at different stages among states, and likely to undergo some modifications, Ms. Ravitch noted.

"The best you can say about Goals 2000 right now is it has gotten a lot of people talking about standards and thinking about what standards are," she said, adding: "And, there's some money out there."

Proponents say that Goals 2000 strikes a delicate balance between state and federal responsibilities by using federal dollars to encourage states to pursue their own reforms in curriculum and assessment.

Furthermore, they say, the law provides a framework for changing the function of state and federal bureaucracies and for generating public support for school reform.

Critics counter that the legislation could give the federal government the opportunity to dictate policy to states and districts. Moreover, some opponents say, Goals 2000 has had minimal impact to date and is nothing more than a political trophy for the Administration.

All sides agree that Goals 2000 is politically charged and will likely continue to serve as a lightning rod for attention as Congress and the states set fiscal and policy priorities over the coming months.

Two Administrations

President Clinton signed the Goals 2000 law in March 1994. It authorizes grants to states and school districts that can be used for most any school-reform effort, as long as the states and districts develop improvement plans that focus on the establishment of challenging content standards and aligned assessments.

Although the law is credited to the Clinton Administration, its philosophical origin is the 1989 education summit in Charlottesville, Va., where the nation's governors and President George Bush agreed to draft national education goals.

Mr. Clinton, then the Governor of Arkansas, was the governors' chief negotiator during the summit and the developer of the goals, which were adopted in early 1990.

In 1991, Mr. Bush unveiled an education strategy drafted by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. "America 2000" called on communities to adopt the goals, devise a strategy to achieve them, and measure their progress.

Mr. Alexander also called for federal aid to create innovative schools, aid for communities that adopted school-choice programs including private schools, and a "national examination system" based on "new world standards."

Proposed legislation followed, and the reform-grant program at the heart of Goals 2000 surfaced in 1991 as part of a Democratic alternative to America 2000.

The legislation died largely because the Democrat-controlled Congress would not approve a voucher program and Republicans opposed provisions, demanded by House Democrats, that performance standards for students be balanced by "opportunity" standards measuring school services.

When the Clinton Administration revived the standards idea, passage was ultimately secured with a compromise requiring participating states to set opportunity standards or strategies. (See Education Week, 4/6/94.)

Off to an Early Start

But state and local officials did not wait for the end of this four-year legislative battle. Hundreds of communities and numerous states joined the America 2000 movement, and their work has segued neatly into the Goals 2000 effort.

This connection was evident at a recent school-reform conference in Columbus, Ga., that was co-sponsored by the Education Department.

John Blewett, the executive director of the Emmanuel 2000 Partnership, said his Georgia community conceived a "central vision" for its schools under America 2000 and hopes to realize it--largely focusing on an effort to reduce dropout rates--with money from Goals 2000.

"If they get the money to us, we can put it to good use, and we will put it to good use in ways we feel will do the most good," he said.

In Nebraska, officials with Omaha 2000, a communitywide effort to improve schools, still use the old America 2000 logo and follow the America 2000 strategy.

But they hope to use Goals 2000 funding to set exit standards for the 14 area school districts that make up Omaha 2000, according to Connie Spellman, the vice president for education of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

"America 2000 and Goals 2000 have really provided the framework for us," she said.

Such a blurring of the lines does not disturb Clinton Administration officials.

"It doesn't matter what it's called. Goals 2000, America 2000," said Stanley Williams, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's regional representative in Atlanta. "A chair by any other name is still a chair."

Scaling Up

Michael S. Cohen, a senior adviser to Mr. Riley and the chief architect of the Goals 2000 law, said it was designed to spur states and localities to "scale up" their ongoing reform efforts. That, he said, is why Goals 2000 requires the formation of state and local planning panels that will foster public participation.

"The challenge is to help parents understand what these reforms are," he said. "Reformers and educators have not laid this out clearly."

And by tying the program to the $7 billion Title I compensatory-education program--through a separate requirement that challenging standards be set for Title I students--the Administration also hopes to encourage state and local officials to think about how they can use federal resources for broad-based reforms rather than narrow, categorical purposes, Mr. Cohen said.

"What we're trying to do is have states think along those lines and use our resources to support scaling up in ways they hadn't been able to before," he said. "If you would've asked states two years ago, 'How do you use federal resources to support and strengthen and expand reform efforts?' you would not have gotten much of an answer."

Observers and state officials say it is too early to gauge whether Goals 2000 has had such an impact. In particular, they note, the amount appropriated for state grants--$372 million in this fiscal year--has been too small to singlehandedly effect change.

But they say states and school districts seem to have embraced the program and the small amounts of money that have come with it.

Helping Parents Understand

For example, in Kentucky, where a comprehensive school-reform law is in effect, Goals 2000 money is being targeted for parent involvement and public engagement because state officials feel many citizens remain unaware of the changes the state law is bringing. More than $478,000 has been divided among 16 school districts for that purpose.

"We're doing a lot of innovative things, and, after five years, parents still don't understand it, and part of the reason is we haven't helped them understand it," said Sheree P. Koppel, the director of federal, state, and special programs for the Franklin County, Ky., schools.

A grant of $30,000 has allowed schools in the district to come up with their own parent-involvement strategies, she said.

Most of the $1.1 million available to school districts in Massachusetts will be used for teacher training, pre-service training, and development of local reform plans. But $125,000 has been set aside for charter schools, which were authorized under a state reform law in 1993. Another $100,000 has been set aside for 10 alternative schools.

Officials in Delaware awarded grants to three districts to integrate the development of school-improvement plans, teacher training to support the plans, and improvements in educational technology. Most states are providing separate Goals 2000 grants for these purposes.

"At this point, [Goals 2000] has not provided enough money to replicate things on a scale we haven't before," said Lisa Hicks, Delaware's Goals 2000 coordinator. "What [Goals 2000] has done in terms of scale-up is help educate people to think about reform across the system."

"We wouldn't have had the incentive money for a broad-based planning effort" without Goals 2000, she said.

Opposition Continues

Critics, however, say the law does not allow enough local innovation.

"Goals 2000 doesn't challenge anyone to do anything new," said Jeanne Allen, the president of the Washington-based Center for Education Reform. The money is spent on activities "that are limited to the status quo," she said.

Moreover, political controversy has stalled the program in some states.

The state school-improvement panel in New York remains incomplete because Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, has refused to name members. Spending on planning within the state education agency has been put on hold.

In Montana, nine school districts have received nearly $225,000 in school-improvement planning grants, but after last year's Republican-dominated elections, the legislature voted to remove the state from Goals 2000 participation.

Federal funds thus will not be available after June 30, and state officials are exploring ways they can continue to finance the districts' improvement processes with state funds.

Perhaps nowhere is the politics of Goals 2000 more evident than in Georgia, where the state superintendent, Linda Schrenko, a Republican who was elected in an upset last November, does not publicly acknowledge that the state has accepted Goals 2000 money.

Instead, the superintendent and other state officials maintain that the state is using federal dollars to implement its Georgia School Improvement Plan.

Ms. Schrenko defeated Werner Rogers, the long-time Georgia state schools chief, after campaigning against Goals 2000 and state and federal interference in local schools.

"It's a matter of semantics, and that's fine with me," said one state education agency official. "I can teach it flat or I can teach it round."

'Back Burner'

Meanwhile, the new Republican majority in Congress has already taken major steps toward eliminating a national body created in the Goals 2000 law to certify voluntary state standards. (See Education Week, 5/17/95.)

Some lawmakers and others--including Mr. Alexander, who is seeking the 1996 G.O.P. Presidential nomination--are calling for a repeal of the whole law in an effort to curb the federal role in education.

Even if the program is not killed outright, Republicans have indicated that they do not plan to allocate the big increases in Goals 2000 funding that President Clinton requested.

Proponents are nervous about the law's fate.

"Politically, I'm not sure if this issue doesn't have to go on the back burner for a while," said Rae Nelson, a former Bush Administration official who is the executive director of the Center for Workforce Preparation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But backers of the program suggest that regardless of events on Capitol Hill, business and local support for school improvement based on high academic standards is strong.

"The grassroots movement in support of standards and national education goals is unstoppable," said Lesley Arsht, the president of the Coalition for Goals 2000, who helped Mr. Alexander promote America 2000 as his communications director.

The "Scaling Up" series is underwritten by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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