Unlike the end of the 1960s, when a decade of “can-do” effort had achieved President John F. Kennedy’s goal of a manned moon landing, the turn of the millennium did not see America’s public schools achieve any of the eight education goals established by President George Bush and 49 state governors in 1989.
Although there have been slight improvements in some states, the nation’s schools have conspicuously failed to make significant progress towards meeting the lofty targets of Goals 2000. In some areas, the situation now is worse than it was ten years ago.
In issuing a progress report last December, the National Education Goals Panel insisted that the goals were working and renewed its commitment to them–but set no timetable for their achievement.
Education Secretary Richard W. Riley tried to make the best of the failure by saying that the goals had helped establish high education standards during the past decade, and had challenged us “to keep moving forward.” But when progress on education goals is compared to the decade-long lunar landing project, it seems the education goals for the year 2000 have not yet achieved Earth orbit.
Panel member Tommy G. Thompson, governor of Wisconsin, admitted as much in his comments. “Our goals are great,” he said. “We’re going in the right direction, but we’re going at a very slow speed.”
Two key goals–literacy and high school graduation rates–provide an overall indicator of progress towards the others. Reading achievement changed little during the 1990s, and the percentage of students who received high school diplomas actually fell dramatically, from 80.5 percent in 1989 to 74.7 percent in 1998.
What Are the Goals?
Goal # 1: By the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn.
While there has been some improvement in parents reading to 3-year-olds and in the general health of preschoolers, the percentage of children enrolled in preschool increased only from 40 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 1997.
Goal # 2: By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
The high school completion rate in 1998, 85 percent, was the same as in 1989, but high school students receiving diplomas fell from 80.5 percent to 74.7 percent over the same period, while completions via GED rose from 4.2 percent to 10.1 percent.
Goal # 3: By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, 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 the Nation’s modern economy.
While there has been some improvement in math achievement, reading scores have remained largely unchanged. Achievement in writing and civics has been disappointingly low.
Goal # 4: By the year 2000, the nation’s teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century.
During the decade, the percentage of high school teachers with an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject area of their teaching dropped from 66 percent to 63 percent.
Goal # 5: By the year 2000, United States students will be the first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
According to the results from the Third International Math and Science Study, U.S. twelfth-graders ranked near the bottom in both math and science when compared to students in other nations.
Goal # 6: By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Although the panel reported that up-to-date figures are not available, the data that are available are not encouraging: More than one in five U.S. adults reads only at or below a fifth-grade level. Since school reading achievement has changed little over the decade, the prospect for improved adult literacy appears limited.
Goal # 7: By the year 2000, every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
While threats of violence are down and the use of alcohol has held steady, the percentage of tenth-graders who report using illegal drugs increased from 24 percent in 1992 to 40 percent in 1998.
Goal # 8: By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.
For more information …
The panel’s report is available on the Internet at http://www.negp.gov.