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Goals Progress Report Shows Mixed Results

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When President Bush and the nation's governors set national education goals in 1990, they were portrayed as benchmarks to be met by 2000. But halfway through the decade, the National Education Goals Panel reported last week, that objective remains far out of reach.

As in previous years, the panel's annual report on progress toward meeting the national goals reveals a mixed bag of results. While more parents are reading to their preschool children and there are fewer children born with one or more health risks, for example, more 10th graders report that they have used illicit drugs and more teachers say they have been threatened or injured in class.

The goals panel's fifth annual report, "Building a Nation of Learners," tracks 43 such "indicators" that the panel has designated as the basis for assessing progress toward the goals. The report compares figures from 1990, the year six of the eight goals were established, to the most recent available data.

Progress was noted on seven points, a decline on seven others, and no meaningful difference was found for 12. No comparable data is available to update the other 17 statistics.

Panel members, who held a news conference here last week, said the findings emphasize the need for challenging content standards and assessments with which student progress can be gauged.

"The vision is, if this nation is to be productive ... we know we have to raise our achievement levels in education," said Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado, a Democrat who was the panel's first chairman.

The report, he said, "is kind of like an educational CAT scan, and sometimes it's a harsh report. But you need accurate data if you're ever going to have a cure."

In addition to a progress report on the national goals, the report includes a special section on parent involvement in education. It highlights research indicating that children succeed more with encouragement from their families, lists resources for parents and educators, and provides examples of schools with effective school and community involvement practices.

Bipartisanship

The Bush administration and the National Governors' Association adopted six goals after their historic 1989 education summit in Charlottesville, Va. They were codified in 1994 in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and Congress added two more to the list.

The goals are: all children starting school ready to learn; a high school graduation rate of 90 percent; students in grades 4, 8, and 12 demonstrating competency in nine core academic areas; access for teachers to continual professional-development opportunities; a first-place standing for the United States in international comparisons of math and science achievement; universal adult literacy; schools free of drugs and violence; and all schools promoting parent involvement in education.

The goals panel--composed of governors, members of Congress, state legislators, and presidential appointees--is charged with monitoring progress toward the goals.

Recognizing the increasingly partisan nature of the debate over education at all levels of government, panel members highlighted the bipartisan nature of the initiative and the panel's role as a data gatherer.

"No matter whether you're conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, live in an urban area or a rural area, whatever your philosophy, there's really no debate about knowing whether children can read, how much children know in math and science," said Gov. John Engler of Michigan, a Republican who became chairman of the panel last week.

Standards and assessment, panel members emphasized, should be driven by state and local governments. And voluntary national standards and the presence of national goals, they said, should not be misinterpreted as movement toward federal control of education.

"I don't think we should be afraid of national standards that are just out there as advisory," said Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, a Republican. "I don't think anybody can disagree about the goals we're reporting on."

Over the next year, Mr. Engler said, the goals panel will continue to collect data so that comparisons between states can be made, track state standards development, and publicize successful state and local education practices.

A Wealth of Data

The report includes an executive summary, a core report, and two volumes of data reported at the state and national levels.

Among the findings:

  • The high school graduation rate remained steady between 1990 and 1994 at 86 percent.
  • The percentage of students who meet the goals panel's performance standard in reading fell from 40 percent of 12th graders in 1992 to 36 percent in 1994. The percentages for 4th and 8th graders rose one percentage point, from 29 percent to 30 percent, over that period. The percentage of students who meet the standard in math rose from 13 percent of 4th graders in 1990 to 18 percent in 1992, from 20 percent to 25 percent of 8th graders, and from 13 percent to 16 percent of 12th graders.
  • The percentage of secondary school teachers who hold an undergraduate or graduate degree in the main subject they teach dropped from 66 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 1994.
  • The gap in the number of white and black high school students who enrolled in college dropped from 14 percentage points to 13 points between 1990 and 1993. The gap between white and Hispanic students fell from 11 percentage points to 8 points.

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