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American Annals of the Deaf 148.5 (2004) 347-348
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No Child Left Behind:
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Consider the following goals:
- All children in America will start school ready to learn.
- The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
- American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in subject matter, including English, math, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well so they will be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.
- U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.
- Every adult American will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
- Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
A person reading this list could be excused for thinking it applied to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that is having such an impact on present day American education. The concentration on English literacy and improved academic achievement in science, math, history and geography is consistent with this legislation, as is the emphasis on demonstrated competency in different grades. In fact, the list predates NCLB by more than a decade: It was contained in the National Education Goals 2000 legislation passed during the administration of the first President Bush and continued throughout the 1990s by President Clinton. Similar to NCLB, it was a bipartisan effort. Every year for 10 years a National Education Goals Report was published by the National Education Goals Panel. By the year 2000 the goals clearly had not been met and the project died with a whimper. As might be expected, it is seldom discussed and I have never seen a treatment of the causes of its failure. Obviously goals that contain wording such as "All children in America. . . ." "Every adult American. . . ." and "Every school in America. . . ." may be ambitious and laudable but clearly are unattainable. The only major criticism of the goals came from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who suggested that they were similar to the old Soviet Five Year Plans; everyone knew they were unattainable but pretended to take them seriously. At one point, after looking at data for the states, Moynihan facetiously suggested that the best way to improve academic achievement would be to move all states closer to Canada. Throughout the decade north central states and the northeastern states of New England consistently showed the highest achievement. According to the 1999 National Education Goals Report, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Montana were tops in fourth and eighth grade reading. Minnesota, Connecticut, Maine, and Wisconsin were leaders in both fourth and eighth grade math. For eighth grade science (no data were reported for fourth grade) Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Minnesota were the leaders, with Connecticut and Iowa close behind. In writing achievement, only Connecticut had more than 40% of eighth graders scoring at or above the proficient level.
It is interesting in passing to note that nobody ever seriously suggested looking at what these states were doing right. The only thing they have in common is location in the northern part of the country; they are not similar in their ethnic/racial make up and in some of the states (Maine, Montana, North Dakota), family income is not high. Also [End Page 347] there are other northern states that do not demonstrate high achievement.
Despite its failure to meet unrealistic targets, the Goals 2000 effort had some positive impact. It drew attention to the need for improved instruction and accountability, especially in terms of measurable outcomes. It also provided the background for the much more ambitious No Child Left Behind legislation, which may be thought of a sort of Goals 2014, but with more teeth and more financial backing than Goals 2000. As readers know, the goal is that...