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Goals 2000: Another Fed fiasco

By Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld

Back in February 1990, when President Bush proposed his Goals 2000 initiative in his State of the Union address, I expressed my usual skepticism over any government program that promises to "solve" our education problem with catchy slogans. In an open letter to the president, I wrote: "The present education establishment is simply too big, too self-serving, too financially secure, too corrupt, too monopolistic, too utopian to do the simple, efficient job that needs to be done. What is needed is realism and good faith. Realism requires that we see our education system as it is and not continue this endless charade of reforms that waste billions and do not produce the desired results. Good faith requires that we acknowledge the right of a free people to seek alternatives to failed government institutions and programs."

Well, here we are, only months away from year 2000, and what are the results of the billions spent? The first goal was that all children would be ready to learn by the time they were ready to attend school. I wrote: "The problem is not that the children aren't ready to learn, it's that the teachers aren't ready to teach! Children are ready to learn the moment they are born. In fact, by the time they are of school age they have learned to speak their own language quite intelligently and fluently. Every child, unless born with a serious defect, is a very efficient self-teacher and self-learner -- a veritable dynamo of language learning. Yet, after one year in a public school, many of these same intelligent children become 'learning disabled.' How come?" (With such programs as Whole Language, Invented Spelling, the New New Math, and other academic insanities, that's how come.)

The next goal was that by the year 2000, the high school graduation rate would be 90 percent. I asked: "But how is it to be achieved if so many children are academically crippled by what is done to them in the first three grades? U.S. News reported in 1987 (May 18) that: 'Nationwide, nearly a million students graduate each year unable to read and write.' So graduation is not a guarantee of competence. But the educators may very well increase the graduation rate by simply giving out more meaningless diplomas."

The third goal was supposed to prevent such frauds. President Bush stated: "And we're going to make sure our schools' diplomas mean something. In critical subjects -- at fourth, eighth and 12th grades -- we must assess our students' performance." That spurred the development of the national assessments, such the NAEP, which continue to report student deficiencies, which then justify spending lots more money on education.

The next goal proposed by the president was that by the year 2000, American students would be first in math and science. As of 1998, we were nowhere near that goal. According to the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 12th graders outperformed only two of the 21 participating countries in math and science. On the advanced math assessment, our students were outperformed by those in 11 countries. On the physics assessment, we were outperformed by those in 14 countries.

Another goal was that every American adult would be a skilled and literate worker by the year 2000. In September 1993, the Fed Ed Department released the results of its 14-million-dollar survey of adult literacy in America. The results were horrendous: 40 million American adults were found to be functionally illiterate. Another 50 million fared only a little better. Only about 34 to 40 million Americans could be considered literate. According to Brenda Bell of the National Alliance of Business: "We have estimated that only about 25 percent of the adult population is highly literate." No wonder we have to import so many foreigners to take the high-tech jobs that go wanting.

The Eighth Annual Report of the National Goals Panel made the results official: We are far from outpacing the world in math and science. In fact, in some areas, U.S. students have fallen farther behind. In reading, NAEP scores of 12th graders fell and show no improvement in the other grades. 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. In fact, drug use among students is on the increase.

And so, what does the nation have to show for all of the money spent on Goals 2000? Not much, if anything. However, the education establishment is richer, the assessment bureaucracy larger, the Fed Ed budget bigger than ever, and the American people are as bamboozled as ever. But as Lincoln is reported to have said: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."

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