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Topic: Goals 2000 a Failure
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Goals 2000 a Failure
Posted: Dec 22, 1999 3:01 PM
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From New York Times on the Web, December 22, 1999



'Goals 2000' Scorecard: Failure Pitches a Shutout

By Richard Rothstein

In 1989, President George Bush and the nation's governors set six education
goals for the year 2000. In 1994, with President Clinton's endorsement,
Congress adopted them, adding two more.

We can now declare defeat, having flunked all eight goals we were to reach
by the millennium. What went wrong?

Some "Goals 2000" were ridiculous in the first place. Others required
substantial resources to accomplish, and these were not provided. Still
others required far more than 11 years to achieve.

The very leaders who set these national goals now demand accountability
from districts and schools: principals and teachers should suffer
consequences for not meeting state targets that sprang from the nationwide

But when national leaders fall short of goals, why do they not face similar
sanctions? Policy makers' lack of candor about the irresponsible way the
goals were set can breed local educators' contempt for the entire standards

The goals were these:

. By 2000, all children will start school ready to learn.

. Ninety percent will graduate from high school.

. All will demonstrate competency over challenging subject matter in
English, math, science, foreign languages, civics, economics, the arts,
history and geography.

. The United States will be first in the world in math and science.

. All adults will be literate.

. No school will have drugs, violence, firearms or alcohol.

. Teachers will have needed skills.

. All schools will get parents involved.

Faced with unmet goals, it's easy to maintain that sincere effort was all
that mattered. That is the approach taken by the National Education Goals
Panel, an agency run by governors, members of Congress, state legislators
and federal education officials. Ducking accountability, the panel earlier
this year proposed changing the name "Goals 2000" to "America's Education
Goals," dropping any mention of deadlines. Then, in its 1999 report, it
stated that its "bold venture" had worked, because the goals had "helped
stimulate reforms."

Now, declaring victory may be O.K. for dieters who lose 5 pounds after
aiming for 15, but defining success downward is dicier for national goals
to improve education. If we're serious about making schools accountable,
then the lack of consequence when we set national goals and fail to meet
them sends educators the wrong message. Will we permit schools to claim
that standards were met if they merely "stimulate reforms"?

Perhaps the most irresponsible goal was the one calling for the nation to
be first in math and science. We shouldn't want first place even if we
could have it. Koreans and Japanese score high not only with curriculum we
might emulate but also by subjecting children to intense cramming and
competitive test pressure. These days Japan's news media are agonizing over
the murder of a 2-year-old by the jealous mother of another toddler, who
had scored less well on preschool exams. If this is what "first in the
world" entails, we don't want to go there.

Perhaps we should aim for fifth, not first. Or perhaps we should seek
absolute standards and ignore international ranking.

The glibness of "being first" is worrisome, because it invites districts
and schools also to set glib goals. Can we expect them to be more
responsible than presidents, governors and Congress?

A better goal, but one that was set without necessary resources, was that
all children start school ready to learn. The goals panel says this meant
that by 2000, all would "have access to high-quality and developmentally
appropriate preschool." Yet the national political leaders who set this
goal have also failed, since 1989, to finance such programs. France, on the
other hand, finances quality preschool for all 3-to-5-year-olds.

If we really want first-in-the-world status, here is a more worthy

Universal adult literacy was another goal where lack of financing made a
mockery of our ambition. To fulfill it would have required expanded
community and public-library programs, evening schools and instruction
based in the workplace. Financing these was never on goal-setters' agendas.

Academic proficiency is what most people want goals to inspire, but here we
can't monitor national progress because while Congress set goals for
achievement, it couldn't agree on national standards or tests to measure
it. Thus, each state (except Iowa, which declines to participate) now sets
its own standards. What is "competent" in one state is not in others, so we
can't know how far we are from "all" students' demonstrating "competency
over challenging subject matter."

Standards-setting is serious business, and carefully reasoned goals can
spur achievement, entitling those meeting them to rewards. But goals we
can't (or shouldn't) meet only promote cynicism. To reform the school
reform movement, holding those accountable who so recklessly established
"Goals 2000" might be a good place to start.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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