Goals 2000

In March, 1994, President Clinton signed his Administration’s education “reform” legislation, the “Goals 2000: Educate America Act” into law. The education package sets out a number of goals to be achieved over a period of six years, including the following:

  • All students will arrive at school ready to learn;
  • The nation’s high school graduation rate will be at least 90 percent;
  • Students will be competent in English, history, geography, foreign languages, and the arts;
  • American students will lead the world in math and science;
  • All adults will be literate;
  • Every school will be free of violence and drugs;
  • Two new goals added in the conference version: improved teacher training and creation of programs in local schools to enlist parental involvement.
  • These goals are not the source of our concern; what we object to is the Clinton Administration’s means to achieve these ends. Of course these goals are commendable. In the short term, they are also unrealistic. And the process outlined by the Clinton Administration to actually attain them is fundamentally flawed.
    Goals 2000 is based on two faulty premises: (a) that increased funding can equalize and ultimately better performance; and (b) that greater federal involvement will result in improved student achievement. The educational history of the last 25 years contradicts both premises.

    Here are our specific concerns. First, the legislation continues a two decade-long preoccupation with inputs–a strategy advanced by the education establishment to the detriment of academic achievement. President Clinton’s plan to reform schools requires that every state establish “opportunity to learn” standards, defined as “conditions of teaching and learning necessary for all students to have a fair opportunity to learn.” Although implementation of opportunity to learn standards is not enforced, states are encouraged to adopt them, following the failed logic that more money spent means higher test scores. Eric Hanushek of the University of Rochester points to this misguided assumption and notes that over 200 studies since the mid-1960s have failed to find any systematic relationship between spending and student performance.

    Second, Goals 2000 expands federal control over education. Over the last 20 years, federal involvement has increased dramatically, and educational achievement has gone down. President Clinton’s National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC) — essentially a national school board — would certify and review all content, performance, delivery standards and assessments.

    Third, Goals 2000 burdens states with additional restrictions, diminishing local control over education. States are charged with establishing a panel to develop a plan for education reform, and local educational agencies must create panels to develop reform plans, which are then submitted to the state educational agency. Instead of decentralizing education, then, Goals 2000 creates new regulatory mechanisms for schools and communities.

    Improving American education is not a mysterious science. There is no federal program, no magic bullet, no novel approach or procedure that will someday be invented to cure our educational ills. We simply have to promote time-honored, common-sense policies.

    At Empower America, we believe our education system needs fundamental reform. Here’s what that might look like: reform measures providing for accountability, decentralization, national standards in the core subjects, merit pay, alternative certification, and student vouchers — which allow parents to choose the public, private or religious school to which they send their children. These proposals, if implemented, would dramatically improve American education. But it would mean that the Clinton Administration would have to take on the education establishment — including the very powerful, and very liberal, National Education Association (NEA). Unfortunately, instead of taking on the NEA, the Clinton Administration has been co-opted by it. And it is American students who are suffering because of it.