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

The National Education Goals: How Are We Doing

High school graduation day has always been something special in America. It is an end, a beginning, a time to celebrate. Like stamps of approval, the diplomas carried home proudly tell our new graduates: "You have met our expectations, and you are ready for what comes ahead. Your education builds the foundation for a successful life. You now have gained the tools needed to tackle future challenges."

Sadly, this message does not depict the whole truth. Instead of a high school diploma being a symbol of academic achievement and preparedness for life's challenges, we have allowed it to become, in all too many cases, nothing more than a certificate of attendance -- a simple piece of paper that says a student showed up in school for twelve years.

"We" means all of us. Educators, learners, parents, policymakers, employers, and other community leaders allowed what was once an exemplary education system to stagnate and decay. Most students leave this system without ever fully knowing what they are capable of learning and doing, and without having gained the tools and skills they need to survive and prosper.

Only in the last few years have Americans come to understand the disservice done to individuals and to society by our low expectations. For many years, employers and college officials criticized the low skills and knowledge levels of high school graduates. But when international academic assessments showed that American students were not measuring up to students in other industrialized countries, it rocked the foundations of businesses and the education system.

In September 1989, an historic turnaround began. The President and the nation's Governors met in Charlottesville, Virginia, for an unprecedented, bipartisan "Education Summit." At that summit, they laid the groundwork for the National Education Goals, a vision of the education results toward which we should strive. Equally important, they developed a timetable for attaining the Goals.

These Goals are a rallying cry that focus attention on where we stand, how far we have come, and how far we have to go to guarantee world-class education for all. The National Goals are neither a political ploy nor a hollow promise. Indeed, they represent the educational centerpiece of both the Bush and Clinton Administrations, and serve as a nationwide compact by which we can marshall our best efforts and measure our shortcomings and accomplishments.

The National Education Goals Table of Contents A Wake-Up Call


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