Text of Statement on Education Goals Adopted by Governors

March 07, 1990 17 min read

Following is the text of the goals statement adopted by the National Governors’ Association at its meeting in Washington last week:

If the United States is to maintain a strong and responsible democracy and a prosperous and growing economy into the next century, it must be prepared to address and respond to major challenges at home and in the world. A well-educated population is the key to our future. Americans must be prepared to:

Participate effectively in the workforce and in an internationally competitive economy;

Participate knowledgeably in our democracy and our democratic institutions; and

Function effectively in increasingly diverse communities and states and in a rapidly shrinking world.

Education has always been important for preparing people to assume adult roles. But in the past, our standards have not been very demanding. Society was more constant, institutions more stable, and most jobs demanded persistence or strength, rather than a well-trained mind. As a nation, we could, and did, get by with only a small portion of our population being well-educated, and a much larger group acquiring only minimal training.

Today a new standard of an educated citizenry is required, one suitable for the next century. Our people must be as knowledgeable, as well trained, as competent, and as inventive as those in any other nation in the world. All of our people, not just a few, must be able to use their minds well, to think for a living, and to understand the world around them. They will need to communicate complex ideas, analyze and solve problems, and think and reason abstractly. They will need a deep understanding of a wide range of subjects in order to bring appropriate knowledge and judgment to situations they confront. They must understand and accept the responsibilities and obligations of citizenship. They must continually learn and develop new skills throughout their lives.

The challenge facing us is to develop an education system that is second to none in the world, so that all Americans, at all age levels, are as well educated and as highly skilled as our competitors. Future success of education depends on sweeping, basic changes in the way schools are operated and organized. Greater flexibility in both instructional approaches and programs must be developed in order to serve a wide range of students, including at-risk students whose failure will become the failure of the nation. Achievement of these critical changes depends in large part on the commitment of professional educational leaders.

To help meet this challenge, we as a nation must set ambitious national education goals--performance goals that must be achieved if the United States is going to remain competitive in the world marketplace and our citizens are going to reach their highest potential.

These goals are about excellence. They recognize that every child can learn, regardless of background or ability. They stress restructuring and revitalizing the education system of the United States. They recognize that education is a lifelong proposition. They are designed to encourage a renaissance in education.

Meeting these goals will require that the performance of our highest achievers be boosted to levels that equal or exceed the performance of the best students anywhere; that the performance of our lowest achievers be substantially increased to far higher levels then their current performance; and that what our best students can achieve now, our average students will be able to achieve by the turn of the century. We must work to ensure that a significant number of students from all races and ethnic groups are among our top performers.

If the United States is to maintain a strong and responsible democracy and a prosperous and growing economy into the next century, it must be prepared to address and respond to major challenges at home and in the world. The first step is to establish a clear set of national education goals that are worthy of our people and our times and that provide a measure by which elected officials can be held accountable for results.

National Goals for Education


Goal 1: By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.


All disadvantaged children will have access to high quality and developmentally appropriate preschool programs that help prepare children for school.

Every parent in America will be a child’s first teacher and devote time each day helping his or her preschool child learn; parents will have access to the training and support they need.

Children will receive the nutrition and health care needed to arrive at school with healthy minds and bodies, and the number of low-birthweight babies will be significantly reduced through enhanced prenatal health systems.

School Completion

Goal 2: By the year 2000, the high-school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.


The nation must dramatically reduce its dropout rate and 75 percent of those students who drop out will successfully complete a high-school degree or its equivalent.

The gap in high-school graduation rates between American students from minority backgrounds and their nonminority counterparts will be eliminated.

Student Achievement and Citizenship

Goal 3: By the year 2000, American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.


The academic performance of elementary and secondary students will increase significantly in every quartile, and the distribution of minority students in each level will more closely reflect the student population as a whole.

The percentage of students who demonstrate the ability to reason, solve problems, apply knowledge, and write and communicate effectively will increase substantially.

All students will be involved in activities that promote and demonstrate good citizenship, community service, and personal responsibility.

The percentage of students who are competent in more than one language will substantially increase.

All students will be knowledgeable about the cultural diversity of this nation and about the world community.

Mathematics and Science

Goal 4: By the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.


Math and science education will be strengthened throughout the system, including special emphasis in the early grades.

The number of teachers with a substantive background in mathematics and science will increase by 50 percent.

The number of U.S. graduate and undergraduate students, especially women and minorities, who complete degrees in mathematics, science, and engineering will increase significantly.

Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning

Goal 5: By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.


Every major American business will be involved in strengthening the connection between education and work.

All workers will have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to adapt to constantly emerging new technologies, new work methods, and new markets through public and private vocational, technical, workplace, or other innovative programs.

The number of quality programs that are designed to serve more effectively the needs of the growing number of part-time and mid-career students will increase significantly.

We will substantially increase the proportion of those qualified students, especially minorities, who enter college; who complete at least two years; and who complete their degree programs.

The proportion of college graduates who demonstrate an advanced ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and solve problems in areas such as the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities will increase substantially.

Safe, Disciplined, and Drug-Free Schools

Goal 6: By the year 2000, every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.


Every school will implement a firm and fair policy on use, possession, and distribution of drugs and alcohol.

Parents, businesses, and community organizations will work together to ensure that schools are a safe haven for all children.

Every school district will develop a comprehensive K-12 drug- and alcohol-prevention education program. Drug and alcohol curriculum should be taught as an integral part of health education. In addition, community-based teams should be organized to provide students and teachers with needed support.

Necessary ChangesAnd Restructuring

These goals are ambitious, yet they can and must be achieved. However, they cannot be achieved by our education system as it is presently constituted. Substantial, even radical changes will have to be made.

The following paragraphs suggest some of the issues the governors and the President will be considering. Without a strong commitment and concerted effort on the part of every sector and every citizen to dramatically improve the nation’s education system and the performance of each and every student, these goals will remain nothing more than a distant, unattainable vision. For their part, governors will work within their own states to develop strategies for restructuring their education systems in order to achieve the goals. Because states differ from one another, each state will approach this in a different manner. The President and the governors will work to support these state efforts, and to recommend steps that the federal government, business, and community groups should take to help achieve these national goals.

The Preschool Years

American homes must be places of learning. Parents must be given help to succeed even in poor, undereducated families. Every parent in America should play an active role in his or her child’s early learning, particularly by reading to them on a daily basis. Parents should have access to the support and training required to fulfill this role.

In preparing young people to start school, both the federal and state governments have important roles to play, especially with regard to health, nutrition, and early-childhood development. The Congress and the Administration have increased maternal and child-health coverage for all families with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. Many states go beyond this level of coverage, and more are moving in this direction. In addition, states continue to develop more effective delivery systems for prenatal and postnatal care. However, we still need more prevention, testing, and screening, and early identification and treatment of learning disorders and disabilities.

The federal government should work with the states to develop and fully fund early intervention strategies for children. All eligible children should have access to Head Start, Chapter 1, or some other successful preschool program with strong parental involvement. Our first priority must be to provide at least one year of preschool for disadvantaged children.

The School Years

As steps are taken to better prepare children for schools, we must also better prepare schools for children.

This is especially important for young children. Schools must be able to effectively educate children when they arrive at the schoolhouse door, regardless of variations in students’ interest, capacities, or learning styles.

Next, our public education system must be fundamentally restructured in order to ensure that all students can meet higher standards. This means: reorienting schools so they focus on results, not on procedures; giving each school’s principal and teachers the discretion to make more decisions and the flexibility to use federal, state, and local resources in more productive, innovative ways that improve learning; providing a way for gifted professionals who want to teach to do so through alternative-certification avenues, and giving parents more responsibility for their children’s education through magnet schools, public-school choice, and other strategies. Most important, restructuring requires creating powerful incentives for performance and improvement, and real consequences for persistent failure. It is only by maintaining this balance of flexibility and accountability that we can truly improve our schools.

The federal government must sustain its vital role of promoting educational equity by ensuring access to quality educational programs for all students regardless of race, national origin, sex, or handicapping condition/disability. Federal funds should target those students most in need of assistance due to economic disadvantage or at risk of academic failure.

Finally, efforts to restructure education must work toward guaranteeing that all students are engaged in rigorous programs of instruction designed to ensure that every child, regardless of background or disability, acquires the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a changing economy. In recent years, there has been an increased commitment to math- and science-improvement programs. The federal government should continue to enhance financial assistance to state and local governments for effective programs in these areas. Likewise, there has been a greater federal emphasis on programs that target youths at risk of school failure and dropping out. The federal government should continue to enhance funding and seek strategies to help states in their efforts to seek solutions to these problems.

Improving elementary and secondary student achievement will not require a national curriculum, but it will require that the nation invest in developing the skills and knowledge of educators and equip our schools with up-to-date technology. The quality of teachers and teaching is essential to meeting our goals. We must have well-prepared teachers, and we must increase the number of qualified teachers in critical shortage areas, including rural and urban schools; specialized fields such as foreign languages, math, and science; and from minority groups. Policies must attract and keep able teachers who reflect the cultural diversity of our nation. Policies that shape how our educators are prepared, certified, rewarded, developed, and supported on the job must be consistent with efforts to restructure the education system and ensure that every school is capable of teaching all of our children to think and reason. Teachers and other school leaders must not only be outstanding, the schools in which they work must also be restructured to use both professional talent and technology to improve student learning and teacher- and system-productivity.

The After-School Years

Comprehensive, well-integrated lifelong learning opportunities must be created for a world in which three of four new jobs will require more than a high-school education; younger workers with only high-school diplomas face the prospect of declining incomes; and most workers will change their jobs 10 or 11 times over their lifetime.

In most states, the present system for delivering adult literacy services is fractured and inadequate. Because the United States has far higher rates of adult functional illiteracy than other advanced countries, a first step is to establish in each state a public-private partnership capable of creating a functionally literate workforce.

In other countries, government policies and programs are carefully coordinated with private-sector activities to create effective apprenticeship and job-training activities. By contrast, the United States has a multilayered system of vocational and technical schools, community colleges, and specific training programs funded from multiple sources and subject to little coordination. These institutions need to be restructured so they fit together more sensibly and effectively to give all adults access to flexible and comprehensive programs that meet their needs. Every major business must work to provide employees appropriate training and educational opportunities to prepare them for the 21st century.

Finally, a larger share of our population, especially those from working class, poor, and minority backgrounds, must be helped to attend and remain in college. The cost of a college education, as a percentage of median family income, has tripled in a generation. That means more loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities are needed. The federal government’s role in ensuring access for qualified students is critical. At the same time, the higher-education system must use existing resources far more productively than it does at present, and must be held more accountable for what students do or do not learn. The federal government will continue to examine ways to reduce students’ increasing debt burden and to address the proper balance between grant and loan programs.


National education goals will be meaningless unless progress toward meeting them is measured accurately and adequately, and reported to the American people. Doing a good job of assessment and reporting requires the resolution of three issues.

First, what students need to know must be defined. In some cases, there is a solid foundation on which to build. For example, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Mathematical Sciences Education Board have done important work in defining what all students must know and be able to do in order to be mathematically competent. A similar effort for science has been initiated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. These efforts must be expanded and extended to other subject areas.

Second, when it is clear what students need to know, it must be determined whether they know it. There have been a number of important efforts to improve our ability to measure student learning. This year for the first time, the National Assessment for Education Progress will collect data on student performance on a state-by-state basis for 37 states. Work is under way to develop a national assessment of adult literacy. These and other efforts must be supported and strengthened.

The governors urge the National Assessment Governing Board to begin work to set national performance goals in the subject areas in which naep will be administered. This does not mean establishing standards for individual competence; rather, it requires setting targets for increases in the percentage of students performing at the higher levels of the naep scales.

Third, measurements must be accurate, comparable, appropriate, and constructive. Placement decisions for young children should not be made primarily on the basis of standardized tests. Achievement tests must not simply measure minimum competencies, but also higher levels of reading, writing, speaking, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. And in comparing America’s achievement with that of other countries, it is essential that international comparisons are reliable. In addition, appropriate, nationally directed research, demonstration, data collection, and innovation should be maintained and recognized as a set of core responsibilities of the federal government in education. That role needs to be strengthened in cooperation with the states.

The President and the governors agree that while we do not need a new data-gathering agency, we do need a bipartisan group to oversee the process of determining and developing appropriate measurements and reporting on the progress toward meeting the goals. This process should stay in existence until at least the year 2000 so that we assure 10 full years of effort toward meeting the goals.

The President and the governors agree to work with the Congress, and education and business groups to institutionalize a process to:

Report regularly on progress toward meeting the goals;

Oversee the development of new measures and indicators; and

Revise goals and objectives if justified by subsequent research and development.

(This process should continue at least through the year 2000 so that 10 full years of effort is guaranteed.)

A Challenge

These national education goals are not the President’s goals or the governors’ goals; they are the nation’s goals.

These education goals are the beginning, not the end, of the process. Governors are committed to working within their own states to review state education goals and performance levels in light of these national goals. States are encouraged to adjust state goals according to this review, and to expand upon national goals where appropriate. The President and the governors challenge every family, school, school district, and community to adopt these national goals as their own, and establish other goals that reflect the particular circumstances and challenges they face as America approaches the 21st century.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as Text of Statement on Education Goals Adopted by Governors