Goals Push for 2000 Falls Short

By David J. Hoff — December 08, 1999 6 min read
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Even though the United States will not meet its ambitious education goals by the 2000 target date, the federal panel assigned to track progress toward them isn’t giving up.</</p>

For More Information

The National Education Goals report, Building a Nation of Learners is available for free from the National Education Goals Panel, 1255 22nd St., N.W., Suite 502, Washington, DC 20037; (202) 724- 0015. It is also on the World Wide Web at
. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“The improvements called for in the national education goals are as important today as they were 10 years ago,” Gov. Paul E. Patton of Kentucky, the chairman of the National Education Goals Panel, said at a news conference held here last week to release the panel’s final report before 2000. “Now is not a time to turn away from those goals.”

Mr. Patton, a Democrat, and others on the 18-member bipartisan committee of governors, federal officials, and state legislators will be urging Congress to renew its charge once it expires next year.

In a two-page “action statement” adopted unanimously at a meeting held immediately before the report was released, the panel recommends that the eight education goals remain in place and that no deadline be set for their achievement. It also says that the panel, if renewed by Congress, would continue to measure progress and recommend ways states and school districts can achieve the goals.

“The ‘fad of the moment’ [approach] simply doesn’t work,” said Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, one of President Clinton’s two appointees to the panel. “You improve education by staying focused on the fundamentals, and these national goals help keep us focused.”

The nation’s eight education goals set targets for student achievement, safe and drug-free schools, adult literacy, teacher quality, parent involvement, and young children’s readiness to learn. President Bush and the nation’s governors set six of them as an outgrowth of their September 1989 education summit in Charlottesville, Va. Congress added two more—on teacher quality and parent involvement—when it passed Mr. Clinton’s Goals 2000: Educate America Act in 1994. (“With 2000 Looming, Chances of Meeting National Goals Iffy,” Jan. 13, 1999.)

The panel was formed in 1991 to monitor progress toward the goals and was financed by the Department of Education. In 1994, it became an independent federal body as part of the Goals 2000 school improvement law. Last week, Mr. Clinton signed a fiscal 2000 appropriations bill that included $2.2 million for the goals panel.

Some Progress

In its ninth annual report, the goals panel says performance has improved on 12 of the 28 indicators it tracks to measure success in achievement of the goals. It also highlights states that have met the goals and those that have made the most progress since the beginning of the decade.

The most improvement has been made in achieving the first goal: All children will enter school “ready to learn.”

All four indicators of school readiness have shown headway since 1990, according to the report. Newborns are coming into the world with fewer health problems, toddlers are more likely to have been immunized, parents of 3-year-olds are reading to their children more, and preschool enrollment has risen for children of all races.

The news on other goals wasn’t as good.

Only 85 percent of the nation’s adults between 18 and 24 have completed high school—5 percentage points below the mark set by the second education goal.

Teenage drug use increased between 1991 and 1998, as did the sale of drugs in schools, according to the report. Teachers also were more likely to report that they were the victims of violence in schools, data cited by the goals panel show.

And while the nation has set its sights on leading the world in mathematics and science achievement, only in 4th grade science did the United States top the world in the 1996 Third International Mathematics and Science Study. High school seniors and 8th graders scored in the middle of the pack in both subjects, as did 4th graders in math.

While American education still appears to be falling short, goals-panel members say their endeavor has been successful because it has focused the nation on results.

“We put in place a process for putting the issue in front of the American public and in front of policymakers,” John R. McKernan Jr., a former Republican governor of Maine and the panel’s chairman in 1994, said at a Washington banquet last week celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Charlottesville summit.

Solving Problems

But critics say the emphasis the goals process places on statistics has distracted school leaders from their main mission.

“We can’t be so tied to data that we lose the soul of what goes on in the classroom,” Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said. “We have to make schools that kids are as eager to rush into at 9 o’clock in the morning as they are to rush out of at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

The goals panel can do more than just keep score, its members and advisers say.

In fact, some of its most important work has been to suggest policies that have resulted in progress toward the goals, said several participants in the two days of activities held here to mark the summit’s anniversary.

“I view this body ... framing, identifying, and giving clarity to some issues,” Richard F. Elmore, a professor at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, said in a panel discussion last week.

For example, the panel published analyses last year of how North Carolina’s and Texas’ state policies had contributed to a rise in test scores.

“That gave us a clue in terms of what we could do differently to move toward the achievement of the goals,” said Robert Wehling, a government-relations executive for the Procter & Gamble Co. who is active in school policy.

In the future, the panel could produce similar reports explaining how states successfully narrow achievement gaps between white and minority students and how they help students who fail graduation tests, said Michael Cohen, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education and a goals-panel member.

“These are some really important issues that every one of us has to address on a daily basis,” Mr. Cohen said.

Who’s on First?

The goals panel is positioned to do such objective analysis, Mr. Cohen said, because it is a bipartisan body with a history of working cooperatively.

When the panel began, it was the only group with such a mandate, according to Gerald E. Sroufe, the director of government relations for the American Educational Research Association. Since then, the goals have become widely accepted by educators and business executives. Existing groups, such as the Education Commission of the States, built their work around the goals, and new ones, such as Achieve—an organization that governors and business leaders formed after the 1996 education summit to help encourage high academic standards—have sprouted up with similar missions.

“What is interesting is we have a lot of claimants to this mission now,” Mr. Sroufe said.

For the goals panel to succeed, it needs to find a new crop of leaders, according to Maris A. Vinovskis, whom the panel has commissioned to write its history.

After the 2000 elections, North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., a panel member, will leave office because of term limits. He is the last of a prominent crop of governors who came to power in the 1970s and ‘80s, worked to improve their states’ schools, and in various capacities have helped advance the national goals. Those leaders have included Mr. Riley of South Carolina, Mr. Clinton of Arkansas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, and Roy Romer of Colorado.

“Where is the next cohort of leadership that is going to identify education as a top political issue in their states?” said Mr. Vinovskis, a history professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “This is a governor-led world, and the tragedy is the governors may lose interest.”

At the anniversary banquet, Mr. Hunt expressed a similar worry. In recent years, it’s been difficult to recruit governors to join the goals panel, he said. “We have got to find a way to get everybody engaged in this,” he said. “I don’t know how we do that.”


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