A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan, 1998-2002 - September 1997


Goal 2. Build a solid foundation for learning for all children.


In fostering the achievement of world-class student performance discussed in Goal 1, reform efforts need to focus on three main areas.

  1. Promoting family and community efforts to support children's early development and education, to ensure that all children have an appropriate preparation for school.

  2. Identifying what students will need to know and be able to do in core subject areas and what strategies are effective in improving instruction. Federal programs and efforts across the nation must focus on enabling all students to master fundamental and advanced reading and math skills. Children need to be able to read independently and effectively by the end of third grade, to be able to apply reading to learning other subjects.

    Similarly, acquiring mathematics skills and knowledge that prepare students for algebra, geometry, and more advanced work is critical to student success in high school and beyond. In mathematics, the latest results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study affirm that poor U.S. performance in the eighth grade is linked to mediocre content, lack of instructional rigor, and inadequate training and support for quality teaching.

  3. Meeting the diverse needs of the student population, so that all students--including limited-English proficient students, students with disabilities, migrant students, students in high-poverty schools, and any students at risk of not achieving the knowledge and skills required to achieve high state standards--receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed.

To address these three areas, the Department:

Use of Evaluations and Assessments in Developing Goal 2

Goal 2 relies on having timely and accurate information with which to track the preparation of young children for school and the progress of all students in reaching challenging standards. Sources for this information include special analyses of the National Assessment of Educational Progress for high-poverty and Title I schools, and state and local assessments. The proposed national tests in reading and math will become a highly valuable source of information once they are implemented in states and communities.


Objectives, Indicators, and Strategies

Objective 2.1: All children enter school ready to learn.

Performance Indicators:

  1. Kindergarten and first grade teachers will increasingly report that their students enter school ready to learn reading and math.
  2. The disparity in preschool participation rates between children from high-income families and children from low-income families will decline year by year.
  3. The percentage of children from birth to five years old whose parents read to them or tell them stories regularly will continually increase.

Recent research has highlighted the importance of the earliest years of life for children's later success. Children's early learning experiences, or lack of them, have consequences that extend into the long-term. Research on early brain development reveals that if some learning experiences are not introduced to children at an early age, the children will find learning more difficult later. Furthermore, children who enter school ready to learn are more likely to achieve to high standards than children who are inadequately prepared. High-quality preschool and child care are integral in preparing children adequately for school.

Core Strategies:


Objective 2.2: Every child reads independently by the end of the third grade.

Performance Indicators:

  1. Increasing percentages of fourth-graders will meet basic, proficient, and advanced levels in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  2. At least 25% of students will participate in the national reading test by spring 1999; increasing percentages thereafter will participate.
  3. By 2001 the America Reads Challenge corps will prepare tutors for 3 million children, including at least 100,000 college work-study tutors annually. (Legislation needed.)
  4. Increasing percentages of teachers of kindergarten through third grade will complete intensive professional development to enable them to skillfully teach reading.

In 1994, 40% of fourth-graders failed to attain the basic level of reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and 70% did not attain the proficient level. Although reading problems are particularly severe for disadvantaged students, students with reading difficulties represent a cross-section of American children. As more and more jobs require better reading skills, many students will have to improve their reading skills.

The Department's existing programs make a vital contribution to the reading success of young children. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides reading services to millions of children each year. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and bilingual education funds under Title VII also support reading services for children. Although teachers and schools have the critical responsibility for literacy, studies find that sustained, individual attention and tutoring after school and over the summer can raise reading levels when combined with parental involvement and quality school instruction.

Core Strategies:


Objective 2.3: Every eighth grader masters challenging mathematics, including the foundations of algebra and geometry.

Performance Indicators:

  1. More eighth-graders reach the basic level or higher levels of proficiency in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress; on international assessments, at least 60% will score at the international median by 2002, and at least 15% will be in the top 10% by 2002.
  2. At least 25% of students will participate in the national math test by spring 1999; increasing percentages thereafter will participate.
  3. Each year, more new teachers will enter the workforce with adequate preparation to teach challenging mathematics to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
  4. Each year, more teachers in grades 5-8 will complete intensive professional development to enable them to teach challenging mathematics.
  5. Each year, increasing numbers of schools will have access to and use information on best practices for math instruction.

Mathematics is a basic skill--the gateway to learning many more advanced skills, the language of technology and science, a tool for analysis and problem solving, and a prerequisite for success in a wide variety of careers. Leading employers emphasize the need for U.S. students to excel in quantitative and problem-solving skills in order to succeed in the workplace. Math, like reading, has a key academic turning point; for math this occurs around eighth grade. Eighth-graders are often put on different tracks that they follow through high school and even beyond; math often determines what that track will be.

Notwithstanding math's importance, U.S. students fail to achieve to the high standards needed for math success. The recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed that although U.S. fourth-graders perform above the international average in math, our eighth-graders scored below the international average. The study also showed that we do not expect eighth-graders to master material as challenging as the material that students in high-performing nations master by that grade.

Core Strategies:


Objective 2.4: Special populations receive appropriate services and assessments consistent with high standards.

Outcome indicators for children and youth in special populations are included throughout Goals 1 and 2 and especially in the key outcome indicators for elementary and secondary education.
Performance Indicators:

  1. States will implement appropriate procedures for assessing and reporting progress towards achieving to high standards by students who have disabilities, are limited English proficient, or are children of migrant workers, by 2001.
  2. The number of schools using comprehensive, research-based approaches to improve curriculum, instruction, and support services for at-risk students will increase annually.
  3. Increasing percentages of administrators and educators working with at-risk children will have access to and use high-quality information and technical assistance on effective practices provided by Department-sponsored technical assistance and research centers as well as through professional associations and publications.
  4. Increasing percentages of teachers will be equipped with strategies to enable students with limited English proficiency or disabilities to meet challenging standards.
  5. Federal technical assistance and other support to states will result in annual increases in the number of states and local school districts with the capacity to disaggregate and report out assessment data aligned with standards for at-risk students.

At-risk children need the same high quality schooling that is our goal for all students plus extra supports to help them succeed. These children may include students with limited-English proficiency or disabilities, migrant students, students in high-poverty schools, and others who are the focus of federal programs. Federal support is critical to ensuring that these students are not left behind in the drive for higher standards. Working to enable at-risk children to reach the high standards expected of all students must figure prominently in reform efforts. Whole-school approaches or targeted interventions must be based on the best research and promising practices from the field. Assessment of our nation's progress must be measured in terms of not only how well states, districts, and schools perform overall, but also in terms of how at-risk students fare.

Core Strategies:


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[Goal 1. Help all students reach challenging academic standards...] [Table of Contents] [Goal 3. Ensure access to postsecondary education and lifelong learning.]