Goals Panel Touts Review of Instructional Materials
Educators could soon get some guidance on being savvy shoppers for textbooks and software.
In the same way that Consumer Reports educates those looking for the best refrigerator or videocassette recorder, so, too, should an independent review service evaluate instructional materials, according to the National Education Goals Panel.
At its meeting here last week, the goals panel asked the independent education-standards group Achieve, with which it shares several board members, to sponsor the creation of such a service.
The 18-member goals panel is a bipartisan group made up of eight governors, four members of Congress, four state legislators, and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and his senior adviser, Carol H. Rasco. It dates from 1990 and monitors progress toward the education goals--to be attained by 2000--that were established after the first national education summit in 1989.
Achieve, based in Cambridge, Mass., was created last year by governors and corporate executives to shepherd the education reforms agreed to at the 1996 national education summit. ("'Entity' Has New Name and $5 Million in Support," Oct. 23, 1996.) Its mission, in part, is to provide help and advice to states that want to have more rigorous academic standards and assessments of student learning.
Achieve's board of directors met immediately following the goals panel session in the same Capitol Hill hotel. But a packed agenda prevented a complete discussion of the idea of a materials-evaluation service, said Achieve's president, Robert B. Schwartz.
At its first meeting since Mr. Schwartz took his post this past summer, the Achieve board had many administrative matters on its plate as well as such policy items as a soon-to-be-announced partnership with other organizations. The partner groups are to work with Achieve to help states benchmark their standards and assessments to the best educational practices both here and abroad, Mr. Schwartz said.
But the board wanted to hear more about the materials-evaluation idea, Mr. Schwartz said, so it is to be taken up again in February at the group's next meeting. "I think it's [an issue] that is appropriate for Achieve," he added.
Achieve's board includes Democratic Govs. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina and Roy Romer of Colorado and Republican Govs. John Engler of Michigan and Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin, all of whom also serve on the goals panel.
As conceived by the goals panel, the materials-review service would evaluate whether instructional materials were "aligned with challenging academic standards, balance depth and breadth, focus on the underlying concepts in the field, and offer clarity of writing."
The service's reports would be available to interested educators, policymakers, and the public.
The goals panel's vote to encourage such a project was unusual in itself. It has not in the past four years had such an "action" item on its agenda, said Ken Nelson, the panel's executive director.
Also last week, the goals panel released its seventh annual report on the nation's progress toward meeting the eight education goals, which include improving student achievement, high school graduation rates, teachers' skills, and school safety.
The report showed mixed results. Since the group's report last year, national performance had improved in six of 20 areas and declined in seven. Improvement came in the number of 2-year-olds who have been immunized against diseases and in better mathematics achievement among 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. But reading achievement for 12th graders declined, and the percentage of secondary school teachers who hold a degree in their main teaching assignment fell. Achievement was based on National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Performance by the states, meanwhile, has improved in eight areas since baseline data were collected, and worsened in five areas. In 14 areas, it has remained unchanged.
Members of the goals panel openly acknowledged that with 2000 slightly more than two years away, the deadline would arrive without all the goals having been met. "No, we're not going to reach all the goals by 2000, and that's too bad," Gov. Thompson told reporters at a press briefing here. Secretary Riley said he hoped that when 2000 came, the nation would keep pushing itself and reset some goals to be met in 2005, for instance.
The goals panel was able to produce a more detailed report this year thanks to additional congressional funding.