- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 1999

There was little to celebrate when Goals 2000 advocates gathered in Washington recently to mark the 10th anniversary of the governors’ first conference on education. With just one year remaining before the final accounting occurs, it is safe to say that none of the original eight goals will be achieved. Indeed, it is quite clear that American schools will fall woefully short of achieving the two most important and most measurable goals established a decade ago.

One of those goals called for U.S. students to be first in the world in math and science. According to the results of the latest international exams in math and science, however, U.S. high school seniors finished 19th among 21 nations in general math; 16th among 21 nations in general science; 15th among 16 nations in advanced math; and dead last among 16 nations in physics. Nor have American schools come remotely close to the other goal of having students in the 4th, 8th and 12th grades demonstrate competence in core subjects.

It’s true that 49 states now have standards; 35 of them having implemented them in the last three years. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson enthused, “Our goals are great. We’re going in the right direction, but we’re going at a very slow speed.”

Indeed, there is now growing evidence suggesting reform is no longer “going in the right direction.” One might say the direction of reform has even gone into reverse. After initial experiences with the high standards demonstrated that too few students were meeting them, one state after another has effectively delayed, lowered or abolished the standards that so enamor Messrs. Riley and Thompson. The New York Times recently reported that Wisconsin, where Mr. Thompson is governor, “is believed to have retrenched the furthest.” In Wisconsin, opposition came from affluent suburbs, where soccer moms came to the abrupt realization that their children were not receiving the education they were led to believe their tax dollars were financing. Their lobbying efforts forced the state legislature to cancel a graduation test before it was even given. Hawaii has eliminated the requirement that students must pass an exam to graduate from high school. Pressure exerted upon politicians and education officials in Massachusetts and New York has resulted in the establishment of absurdly low passing grades for their exams. After 90 percent of sophomores flunked a math test, Arizona, fearful of lawsuits, has delayed its graduation exam. Lawsuits have already been filed in Texas and Florida because too many students have failed to meet the standards, virtually guaranteeing that they will be weakened. In California, where algebra is not even a required high school course, the state’s exit-exam committee recently recommended that the high school graduation exam focus on the seventh-grade math curriculum.

As expected, the teachers unions and the Democratic Party have been screaming that the schools have been denied appropriate funding to meet the standards. This is absurd. American taxpayers have increased inflation-adjusted spending per student by nearly 40 percent since the 1983 report, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” warned that the failed educational system threatened the nation’s future. The utter failure of the public educational establishment to meet even remotely many of the goals established a decade ago suggests that much of that increased funding has been squandered.

Now that same public educational establishment is demanding still more funds, even as it systematically destroys the very reform a commitment to meet high standards that it claims to be the most important achievement during the past 10 years. Thus, as the American taxpayer continues to throw good money after bad, the public educational system remains as unaccountable as ever. The gold star will have to wait

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