Slow Progress Found in Efforts To Reach National Education Goals

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The United States is progressing slowly toward the ambitious national education goals set almost nine years ago, but is unlikely to meet them by the 2000 target date, according to the panel charged with monitoring the process.

"The nation still has a long way to go to meet the national education goals," Gov. Cecil H. Underwood of West Virginia, the chairman of the federally funded panel, said at a news conference last week. "In short, America has made progress on some of the goals but still has room for improvement."

In its eighth annual update, the National Education Goals Panel says the country's young children are better prepared to start school, and that there have been slight increases in math achievement.

But the panel's report cites data showing the country is far from outpacing the world in math and science--the most ambitious of the eight goals. Indeed, U.S. students have in some cases fallen farther behind in those subjects, the report says.

For More Information:

"The National Education Goals Report: Building a Nation of Learners, 1998," is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402.

"Even though we have taken a couple of steps forward--maybe a step and a half--we've gone back one," said Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., a panel member and the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. "That just shows we need improvement."

Of the eight goals, the report says the most progress has been made in reaching the first one, which says children should be ready to learn when they begin school.

Citing research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, the goals panel says the proportion of children born with health risks such as low birthweight declined from 37 percent to 34 percent between 1990 and 1996. In 1997, 78 percent of 2-year-olds had been fully immunized, compared with 75 percent three years earlier, the report says.

Likewise, the percentage of parents who say they read to their children between the ages of 3 and 5 rose from 66 percent to 72 percent from 1993 to 1996, according to Department of Education data cited in the report.

But at the heart of the goals--substantially higher student achievement--the panel was unable to report significant progress.

The country is still 4 percentage points shy of reaching a high school graduation rate of 90 percent--the second goal. The number has remained steady at 86 percent since 1990--the year President Bush and the nation's governors agreed to six of the goals shortly after their Charlottesville, Va., summit on education.

Two others, better teacher training and greater parent involvement, were added in a 1994 law.

Still Struggling

Under the third goal, which calls for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders to raise their achievement in core subjects, the panel points to success only in math, citing results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In reading, NAEP scores of 12th graders fell but have remained the same in the other grades.

The federal testing system, which samples student achievement, has not collected a second round of data in the other subjects listed in the third goal: writing, science, history, and geography.

For the fifth goal, results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study show that American students aren't leading the world in those subjects. Of the three grade levels tests in the battery of exams, U.S. students topped the charts only in 4th grade science. The scores of 8th graders and high school seniors fell toward the middle of the pack for that subject.

In math, 4th graders placed 7th out of 25 countries, but--like science--the performance of 8th and 12th graders slipped.

Still, the goals panel says the country has made some progress toward higher math and science achievement. The proportion of students earning college degrees in those subjects rose from 39 percent to 42 percent from 1991 to 1995.

The panel reports little or no progress on: goal four: an improved teaching force; goal six: every adult will be literate; goal seven: schools will be safe and drug-free; goal eight: more parent involvement.

But while the country is still shy of meeting the challenges laid out in the goals, the process of setting them has spurred many states into action, the report says.

Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 5

Published in Print: December 16, 1998, as Slow Progress Found in Efforts To Reach National Education Goals
Web Resources
  • Read the full text of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • "Reforming Education To Improve Student Achievement," looks at how Goals 2000 supports state efforts to develop clear and rigorous standards for what every child should know and be able to do, and supports comprehensive state- and district-wide planning and implementation of school improvement efforts focused on improving student achievement to those standards. From the U.S. Department of Education, April 1998.
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