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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.”


Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of ” Is Public Education
Necessary?” and eight other books on education.

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