Report Card on Goals Offers Mix of Good, Bad News

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Math scores are rising for 4th and 8th graders, and student alcohol use has declined since 1991, the National Education Goals Panel announced in its fourth annual report last week.

But the report, a scorecard on the nation's progress toward the national educational goals, also found more 10th graders using drugs than last year and noted that there has been little change in the gap between white, black, and Hispanic students enrolling in college or earning degrees since 1990.

"The good news is we are getting closer as a nation to our ambitious goals," said Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. of Maine, the outgoing chairman of the goals panel.

"The bad news is we need massive, broad-based community support and action by policymakers to get where we want to go," he added at a news conference last week.

The National Education Goals Panel was created in 1990 by the Bush Administration and the National Governors' Association to track progress toward the six education goals that had been adopted after the 1989 education summit.

In legislation that formally authorized the goals panel this year, two goals were added to address teacher professional development and parent involvement. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act also expanded the panel's membership and broadened its mandate.

This year's report introduced a new format that changes the categories of information used and reports data for each state--and for the United States over all--on a single page.

A New Format

The new format includes 16 "core areas," such as high school completion or student drug and alcohol use, some of which include multiple measurements. Some of the data come from state and federal sources, and some from studies commissioned by the goals panel.

The report included the following findings:

  • Math achievement for 4th- and 8th-grade students--as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress--increased five percentage points between 1990 and 1992. But the report noted that black and Hispanic students lost ground, although no specific data were cited.
  • There has been a one-percentage-point improvement in the "children's health index" since 1990. That new mechanism tracks the number of infants born with health and developmental risks that can affect learning.
  • Students reporting alcohol use on a survey by University of Michigan researchers dipped from 72 percent to 69 percent between 1991 and 1993. But the number of 10th graders who reported using drugs climbed from 24 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 1993.
  • Tenth graders reporting on a goals panel survey that they had been threatened or injured at school dropped from 40 percent in 1991 to 35 percent in 1993. However, the panel's news release, without citing specific data, added that more 8th and 10th graders are bringing weapons to school.
  • The national high-school-completion rate has remained almost stagnant since 1991 at 86 percent.
  • The gap in preschool participation between children from high- and low-income families has not declined in the past four years.

A Lack of Data

The goals panel has from its inception had trouble finding data that members could agree adequately measure progress toward some of the goals. State-specific data have been especially elusive.

In the national tabulations, 11 of 26 data categories included in the report were left blank because data were either unavailable or states' data were incompatible. The reports for some individual states included even more gaps.

"The country has chosen a course of voluntary ignorance of not knowing how we're doing," said Gov. Evan Bayh of Indiana, the panel's new chairman.

The panel this year created a task force to prioritize data needs and seek funding to help fill some of the report's holes.

"I personally believe the President should propose and fund data collection," Mr. McKernan said.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, on hand to help release the report last week, used the opportunity to warn against "top down" education reform.

"Nothing will be achieved if educators just talk to educators," Mr. Riley said. "We're urging communities to come together to create a positive moral climate and ethic of learning."

He added that the goals can be achieved only if schools eliminate "watered down" curricula taught to some students "because we don't think they will rise to the occasion."

To help encourage reform at the local level, the goals panel last week unveiled a "Community Action Toolkit."

It offers local leaders information on the education goals and resources, as well as advice on such topics as community organizing and working with the media. The kit sells for $37 and can be ordered by calling (800) 98-GOALS.

Vol. 14, Issue 05

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