Article Published in Education Week
National education goals debuted as a movement in 1989 when President Bush and the nation’s Governors met to agree on a bipartisan, nationally coordinated effort to improve public education.
In 1994, Congress passed the Clinton Administration’s Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which would provide the “framework” for all local school reform efforts and all federal K-12 programs.
Now, President Clinton wants to spend another $491 million on Goals 2000 in Fiscal Year 2000, which means that as a new century and millennium begin, Washington will still be dispensing grants in the name of eight National Education Goals that were pegged to fulfillment by the year 2000.
The Clinton Administration proposes to paint a veneer of newness by renaming them “America’s Education Goals,” evidently hoping such lingo will catch on in a winning way. The National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) would become “America’s Education Goals Panel.” Using semantics to keep Goals 2000 current might be justified if the program were uplifting public schools throughout the land.
Unfortunately, there is precious little evidence this first federal foray into coordinating state and local school reform is paying big dividends. Progress reports from the U.S. Department of Education (DoEd) have emphasized deeds (such as the establishment of parent resource centers and reform partnerships) more than academic results. DoEd recently had high compliments for pupils from Jessamine County, Ky., who used a $50,000 Goals 2000 grant to showcase what Goals 2000 is doing in that state’s schools. (Education Week, June 23.)
For instance, the students videotaped teachers talking about how they were teaching technology. The project may have gotten some students excited about learning, and may have been a practicum for those interested in technological careers. But this hardly qualifies as an objective evaluation. When the NEGP has looked at the hard data for evidence of gains in student achievement during the decade of National Goals, the picture hasn’t been pretty.
In its 1998 report, the panel found that the percentage of high-school seniors proficient in reading had actually declined. It noted some gains in social objectives — i.e., a drop in the incidence of infants born with significant health risks — but not much more than a small improvement in math proficiency to show that Goals 2000 has boosted academics.
As is the case with many government programs, Goals 2000 hasn’t had a comprehensive evaluation.
The closest thing was a 45-page study released last November by the General Accounting Office (GAO). Responding to criticism of unwarranted federal intrusion on school decision-making, Congress in 1996 stripped from Goals 2000 a National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which could have been the functional equivalent of a national school board, and opportunity-to-learn standards, which could have set Washington up as the judge of the adequacy of local school spending.
Since then, the GAO noted, Goals 2000 has mainly provided a funding stream to support reform efforts already initiated by states and localities. Not surprisingly, education officials in 10 states told the GAO they liked getting this money and wanted it to continue to flow in the same format.
Working within the federal framework, some of them may have accomplished good things, such as buying computers for classrooms.
But how much more might be done if communities were free to reform schools outside the bureaucratic constraints of Goals 2000?
When it comes to children, goals-setting is more appropriate for parents and community groups than for distant policy-makers in the White House, Congress, or National Governors Association. It would make sense to end the Goals 2000 experiment in 1999 and start fresh with locally driven reform.
Although she has been an avid fan of Goals 2000 (and in fact was one of its architects), First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hinted at an alternative approach in her July 5 address to the National Education Association’s convention in Orlando. Mrs. Clinton urged representatives of the nation’s largest teacher union to support the charter school movement “because I believe that parents do deserve greater choice within the public school system to meet the needs of their children.”
Specifically, the First Lady commended a Washington, D.C., charter school that has rigorous academic requirements and a long waiting list. Why, Mrs. Clinton wondered, couldn’t there be many more schools like this? Why not, indeed?
The NEA delegates who had been cheering practically every point the First Lady made – including her denunciation of vouchers for attending private or parochial schools – fell tellingly silent at her endorsement of charter schools. (Education Week, July 14.) That betrayed an ideological aversion to choice even wholly within the public sector, which helps explain why many advocates of school choice find vouchers or tuition tax credits the only practical recourse.
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