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Supporters Worry Goals 2000 Changes Hurt Standards Efforts

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Washington

Some supporters say that recent changes in the Goals 2000 program may frustrate its intended purpose of fostering systemic, standards-based school reform. And it appears unlikely that the amendments will win over the conservatives and other critics they were designed to please.

Ever since its enactment two years ago, conservatives have held up the Goals 2000: Educate America Act as a symbol of what they consider untoward federal involvement in education.

These critics--who include conservative organizations, two former Republican secretaries of education, a handful of Republican governors, and Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee--have complained that Goals 2000 could lead to everything from a "national school board" to federal officials evaluating parents' ability to raise children.

The Goals 2000 provisions included in the 1996 budget bill President Clinton signed into law April 26 were drafted with the backing of the administration in an effort to dispel those concerns and to bring on board the few states that are not participating. (See Education Week, May 1, 1996.)

"In a broad sense, what the Congress did addresses some of the concerns conservatives and others have about [Goals 2000], but I don't think it's a settled issue," said Jeff Hollingsworth, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, an Alexandria, Va.-based advocacy group.

Conservative Criticisms

The Goals 2000 program provides grants to states, and through them to school districts, to draft and implement school-improvement plans based on challenging state academic standards and aligned student assessments.

In fiscal 1995, $378 million was available; the recent appropriations bill provides $350 million for 1996. (See related story, page 1.)

Many critics fear that the program's emphasis on standards, coupled with federal funding for the development of model national standards, will lead to a national curriculum set in Washington. In particular, they have worried that the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which was to certify standards that states voluntarily submitted, would serve as a "national school board."

Due to criticism from the Republicans who took control of Congress in the 1994 elections, NESIC was never seated, and the legislation last month formally eliminated it. The new law also excised a requirement that states' school-improvement plans be submitted to the U.S. secretary of education for approval.

Conservatives, particularly at the grassroots, also have concerns about Goals 2000 provisions that encourage states to experiment with providing a range of social services to families through schools. Some critics fear this could lead to federally supported school-based health clinics that dispense contraceptives.

Even though the Goals 2000 law says nothing about such clinics, one revision states that the program does not require states, districts, or schools to establish them.

Another concern is that because the eight national education goals are written into the Goals 2000 law, the first goal--that all children start school ready to learn--could lead to government regulation of parents. The appropriations bill states that Goals 2000 will not "require or permit any federal or state official to inspect a home, judge how parents raise their children, or remove children from their parents."

Local Option

Observers said that despite these changes, conservative opponents of Goals 2000 are so adamant that the revisions may have little effect. Indeed, some of the critics object to the very idea of national education goals.

"I don't know how much is good enough for [the critics]," said Tom Lindsley, a policy analyst with the National Alliance of Business, which supports the program. "Goals 2000 has taken on such symbolism that probably if it still exists, that's too much."

"I think those are all improvements," said Phyllis Schlafly, the president of the Alton, Ill.-based Eagle Forum and a vocal critic of Goals 2000. "It would be better if they'd repealed the whole law."

The response from states and districts may be more positive.

Most states are drafting standards, and standards-writing requirements for the current Title I program will eventually require them, at least for Title I students.

But two states--New Hampshire and Virginia--have refused to participate in Goals 2000. Alabama, California, Montana, and Oklahoma are considered by federal officials to have withdrawn from the program.

Aides to governors who have opposed the program praised the changes, especially the provision eliminating the requirement that state plans be sent to the secretary for approval.

"We're definitely going to take another look at it," said Dick Brewbaker, the education liaison for Alabama Gov. Fob James Jr.

Another change allows school districts to apply directly to the federal government for Goals 2000 funds if their state does not participate. They need approval from their state education agency, a key distinction since in some nonparticipating states schools chiefs have tried to persuade governors to join in.

Michael Cohen, a senior adviser to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, said federal officials may have a procedure in place for such an application as early as this week. He said districts will likely be asked to create their own reform plans or show how their use of the money would complement state standards development.

Numerous districts in nonparticipating states are eager to receive some Goals 2000 money. In Virginia, for example, 89 of 134 school boards have passed resolutions in support of their state's participation.

Conservative critics also applauded this change, as they favor locally based initiatives.

No Purpose?

But some observers say the changes will rob Goals 2000 of its focus.

"It started off as a program with its own integrity, and now it's beginning to lose all integrity," said Michael Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University in California.

Deleting federal review of plans guarantees that "the federal government will have no idea what's going on in any state," he said.

Diane Ravitch, a nonresident scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution and a former assistant secretary of education in the Bush administration, agreed with Mr. Kirst. While she dislikes some aspects of the law, she backs the idea of federal support for standards and systemic reform.

"The program once had a kind of coherency for systemic reform," Ms. Ravitch said. "I just don't know what's left except a program in which the money passes from the Education Department to the states and from the states to the districts for whatever good things they want to do and the districts can define as good."

Mr. Cohen said the department will still encourage states to submit their plans for federal approval, which includes a peer-review process. Twenty states have done so. If they choose not to, they will have to offer assurances that the state "meets the requirements" of Goals 2000 and makes a public report on its use of the money.

"The secretary was quite comfortable, as a former governor, that governors and chief state school officers would take seriously the assurances they're supposed to provide," Mr. Cohen said, adding that the annual report is "an effective form of accountability."

In any event, the department had made little fuss about what states proposed to do with their Goals 2000 money, and the agency sought to accommodate even the most reluctant states. For example, Secretary Riley and Gov. Pete Wilson of California have been negotiating on the terms of that state's participation. (See Education Week, May 1, 1996.)

Even the original law required approval of any plan that met the statutory criteria. And in an effort to retain flexibility, the department has not issued regulations for Goals 2000.

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