1st Goals Report Contains Failures And Incompletes

By Robert Rothman — October 02, 1991 7 min read
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The first “report card” on the national education goals contains a few passing grades, several failures, and many incompletes.

Slated for release this week to mark the second anniversary of the education “summit” between President Bush and the nation’s governors, which led to the creation of the goals, the report states that the country has a long way to go to meet the six targets for educational performance.

On the positive side, it notes that the high-school-completion rate is at an all-time high, that students’ mathematics and science performance has improved over the past decade, and that drug use in schools has declined.

But it also concedes that other trends are more ominous, and it blames “a misplaced sense of self-satisfaction” among students and parents for failing to attend to them.

Releasing new data on math achievement, the report says that fewer than 20 percent of students “have achieved expected levels of competency” in that subject.

And, citing previously released information, it notes that U.S. student performance in math and science lags far behind that of students in other countries; that few adults are able to perform complex literacy tasks; and that many schools are unsafe.

In many areas, however, the report points out, hard information is either nonexistent, such as indicators for determining children’s readiness for school and most of the state-level data--or is too inadequate to make judgments about progress.

For example, while the report presents for the first time information on federal spending toward achieving the goal overall, 26 agencies spent $59 billion in fiscal 1991 on such programs--it also acknowledges that such data cannot show whether the federal aid is “helping the nation better its educational performance.”

Despite such gaps, the National Education Goals Panel says in an introduction, the report can serve as a “call to action” to alert the nation to the need for changes.

“Our performance will not improve significantly,” it states, “until we all accept responsibility for raising our own levels of knowledge and skill and for supporting the learning of others in our families and communities.”

A Difficult Task

The 256-page report is the culmination of the efforts by the governors and the Bush Administration that began at the education summit in Charlottesville, Va., in 1989, according to Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, a member of the panel.

Following that historic meeting, the chief executives developed the six national education goals, which state that, by the year 2000: . All children will start school ready to learn; . The high-school-graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent; . All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter; . U.S. students will be first in the world in science and math achievement; . Every adult American will be literate; and . Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence.

To help monitor the goals, the chief executives named the goals panel, consisting of six governors and four members of the Administration, along with three members of the Congress who serve ex officio.

Over the past year, the panel has received reports and testimony from hundreds of experts and interest groups on ways to measure progress toward the goals. In two often contentious meetings last spring, the panel agreed on a set of indicators to form the first report.

Governor Branstad said choosing the measures had been the most difficult part of the process.

“It’s one thing to agree on the goals,” he said. “Choosing the assessment tools has been a little more difficult.” Mr. Branstad also noted that the panel has begun to consider creating new measures, such as a national student-assessment system, to improve its reports in the coming years.

“Even though we know [the measures] are imperfect, we are committed to perfecting them,” he said.

Blank Chapter

As evidence of the inadequacy of existing measures, the chapter on the first goal, on school readiness, is blank.

“At present,” the report says, “there are no direct ways to measure the nation’s progress toward achieving this goal.”

But in a separate section on “additional important information related to the goals and objectives,” the report outlines indirect measures, including data on child health and nutrition, family activities with children, and preschool programs.

For example, it states, 4 out of 10 3- to 5-year-olds in 1991 from families with incomes of $30,000 or less were enrolled in preschool.

The report also says that the panel is considering developing a national early-childhood assessment to provide a direct measure of school readiness in future reports.

On high-school completion, the report says that the nation is close to achieving the 90 percent target. In 1990, it notes, 83 percent of 19- and 20-year-olds and 86 percent of 23- and 24-year-olds had completed high school. The high-school-completion rate has increased substantially for blacks and slightly for whites since 1975.

The document points out that such information is available only at the national level. In the future, it says, the panel will consider ways to collect state-level data on high school completion and dropouts.

Achievement and Citizenship

In one of the few new pieces of information in the report, the chapter on student achievement and citizenship reveals that fewer than a fifth of all students are “competent” in mathematics. Such information was expected to be released on the same day as the goals report by the National Assessment Governing Board. (‘See related story, page 14.)

In an encouraging sign, however, the goals report also notes that the number of Advanced Placement examinations token in the core subjects of English, math, science, history, and geography has increased by 51 percent since 1986. In 1991, it says, over 60 percent of the exams were scored at 3 or above, on a l-to-5 scale.

In gauging progress toward the goal of ensuring that students are “prepared for responsible citizenship,” the report cites data from a 1988 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showing that few 12th graders have a detailed knowledge of institutions such as the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition, it states, fewer than half of the nation’s 18-year-olds in 1988 were registered to vote.

To improve future reports, the panel says, the members will review the forthcoming recommendations of the National Council on Educational Standards and Testing on the development of “world-class standards” and a system of national examinations to determine if such standards are being met.

More Up-To-Date Studies

Highlighting perhaps the greatest gap between current performance and the goals, the chapter on science and math achievement cites the results of three well-publicized international studies that place U.S. students far from first in the world.

The section on additional information suggests possible reasons for such poor performance. In a 1986 survey, it notes, 7 out of 10 3rd-grade teachers reported spending two hours or less a week on science instruction; a separate study found that “substantial numbers” of 4th and 8th graders were not receiving the type of math instruction experts recommend.

The report also points out that additional international studies are expected to be conducted in the 1990’s, and that these results would be included in future reports.

Similarly, a 1993 adult-literacy survey would provide more up-to-date information on progress toward that goal, the report notes. The most recently available information on adults’ skills was a 1986 survey of young adults, although a 1990 survey of applicants for unemployment insurance showed similar patterns.

On the issues of drug use and school safety, the report cites figures indicating that student drug use has been on the decline, but it says that “substantial numbers” of 12th graders are victims of violent acts at school.

The document acknowledges that little state-level information on drug use, violence, and discipline is currently available.

Federal Role

In the chapter on the federal role, the subject of perhaps the most contentious of the goals panel’s deliberations, the report presents for the first time information on the government’s contribution toward achieving the goals.

Because state and local governments provide the bulk of funding for education, and because federal spending is determined by the legislative process, the report notes, the chapter on the federal role “includes neither goals and targets, nor specific performance measures.”

It states that federal agencies spent $59 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 for services and activities related to the goals, a 13 percent increase since 1989.

However, of that total, 42 percent, or $25 billion, went to the post-high-school years, primarily college-student aid. Another 32 percent, or $19 billion, went to elementary and secondary programs, such as school meals and Chapter 1 compensatory education; 24 percent, or $14 billion, went to preschool health, education, and nutrition programs.

Eight federal agencies also spent $310 million on educational research and development in this past fiscal year, the report notes, a 42 percent increase over the 1989 total.

Information on obtaining copies of the report is available from the National Education Goals Panel, 1850 M St., N.W., Suite 270, Washington, D.C. 20036; telephone (202) 632-0952.

A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 1991 edition of Education Week as 1st Goals Report Contains Failures And Incompletes


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