Back in February 1990, when President Bush proposed his Goals 2000initiative in his State of the Union address, I expressed my usualskepticism over any government program that promises to "solve" oureducation problem with catchy slogans. In an open letter to thepresident, I wrote: "The present education establishment is simply toobig, too self-serving, too financially secure, too corrupt, toomonopolistic, too utopian to do the simple, efficient job that needs tobe done. What is needed is realism and good faith. Realism requires thatwe see our education system as it is and not continue this endlesscharade of reforms that waste billions and do not produce the desiredresults. Good faith requires that we acknowledge the right of a freepeople to seek alternatives to failed government institutions andprograms."
Well, here we are, only months away from year 2000, and what are theresults of the billions spent? The first goal was that all childrenwould be ready to learn by the time they were ready to attend school. Iwrote: "The problem is not that the children aren't ready to learn, it'sthat the teachers aren't ready to teach! Children are ready to learn themoment they are born. In fact, by the time they are of school age theyhave learned to speak their own language quite intelligently andfluently. Every child, unless born with a serious defect, is a veryefficient self-teacher and self-learner -- a veritable dynamo oflanguage learning. Yet, after one year in a public school, many of thesesame intelligent children become 'learning disabled.' How come?" (Withsuch programs as Whole Language, Invented Spelling, the New New Math,and other academic insanities, that's how come.)
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The next goal was that by the year 2000, the high school graduationrate would be 90 percent. I asked: "But how is it to be achieved if somany children are academically crippled by what is done to them in thefirst three grades? U.S. News reported in 1987 (May 18) that:'Nationwide, nearly a million students graduate each year unable to readand write.' So graduation is not a guarantee of competence. But theeducators may very well increase the graduation rate by simply givingout more meaningless diplomas."
The third goal was supposed to prevent such frauds. President Bushstated: "And we're going to make sure our schools' diplomas meansomething. In critical subjects -- at fourth, eighth and 12th grades --we must assess our students' performance." That spurred the developmentof the national assessments, such the NAEP, which continue to reportstudent deficiencies, which then justify spending lots more money oneducation.
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, wewere nowhere near that goal. According to the Third International Mathand Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 12th graders outperformed only two ofthe 21 participating countries in math and science. On the advanced mathassessment, our students were outperformed by those in 11 countries. Onthe physics assessment, we were outperformed by those in 14 countries.
Another goal was that every American adult would be a skilled andliterate worker by the year 2000. In September 1993, the Fed EdDepartment released the results of its 14-million-dollar survey of adultliteracy in America. The results were horrendous: 40 million Americanadults were found to be functionally illiterate. Another 50 millionfared only a little better. Only about 34 to 40 million Americans couldbe considered literate. According to Brenda Bell of the NationalAlliance of Business: "We have estimated that only about 25 percent ofthe adult population is highly literate." No wonder we have to import somany foreigners to take the high-tech jobs that go wanting.
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The Eighth Annual Report of the National Goals Panel made the resultsofficial: We are far from outpacing the world in math and science. Infact, in some areas, U.S. students have fallen farther behind. Inreading, NAEP scores of 12th graders fell and show no improvement in theother grades. Little or no progress on goal four: an improved teachingforce; goal six: every adult will be literate; goal seven: schools willbe safe and drug free. In fact, drug use among students is on theincrease.
And so, what does the nation have to show for all of the money spenton Goals 2000? Not much, if anything. However, the educationestablishment is richer, the assessment bureaucracy larger, the Fed Edbudget bigger than ever, and the American people are as bamboozled asever. But as Lincoln is reported to have said: "You can fool all of thepeople some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of thetime, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of " Is Public EducationNecessary?" and eight other books on education.