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

A Wake-Up Call

The sobering facts about our status in meeting the National Goals are a wake-up call to all Americans. At no stage in a learner's life -- before formal schooling, during the school years, or as adults -- are we doing as well as we should be or as well as we can. The nation has fallen behind its own expectations and behind the progress of our global competitors. For three years, we have gathered the most comprehensive and reliable data measuring our performance on the six National Goals. This is the picture wa have:

1. Almost half of American babies start life behind and never have the support to catch up (Goal 1).

Are our preschoolers:

        Born with one or more |                                  |      significant risk factors | Yes 45%                   No 55% |      for further learning and |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                  development? |                                  |                               |                                  |    Immunized by age 2 against | Yes 37%                   No 63% |     major childhood diseases? |YYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                               |                                  |                Read to daily? | Yes 53%                   No 47% |           (3- to 5-year-olds) |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                               |                                  |           Involved in regular |                                  |      discussions about family | Yes 43%                   No 57% |   history or ethnic heritage? |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|           (3- to 5-year-olds) +------+------+------+------+------+                               0%    20%    40%    60%    80%   100% 
An alarming percentage of our infants (45% are born with an appreciably higher risk of school failure because of one or more health factors, such as having mothers who smoked or drank alcohol during pregnancy. Only 37% of two-year-olds receive necessary immunizations against major childhood diseases. Only 53% of preschoolers are read to every day by their parents. Only half participate at least once a month in community- or religious- sponsored events, and fewer than that (43%) are regularly involved in discussions about their family history or ethnic heritage. More than half of all children from poor families never attend preschool, and these children are much less likely than others to have a regular source of health care when sick.

Missing from the lives of so many infants and young children are the relationships and activities that stimulate what teachers believe are the qualities a child most needs to be ready for school--curiosity and an ability to communicate and get along with others. When we consider that infants born during the next year will enter the first grade in the year 2000, we have a unique opportunity to give these babies the chance to meet the first National Goal--that all children start school ready to learn. That is a daunting but doable task.

2. During the years American children are in grades K-12, most cannot understand and perform at levels that are necessary for success in today's world (Goals 3 and 4).

Have our students mastered challenging subject matter in:

                            |                                  |                    Reading? | Yes 28%                   No 72% |                   (Grade 8) |YYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                             |                                  |                             |                                  |                Mathematics? | Yes 25%                   No 75% |                   (Grade 8) |YYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                             +------+------+------+------+------+                             0%    20%    40%    60%    80%   100% 
The most recent national assessments tell us that while students have improved their mathematics performance somewhat in the last two years, fewer than one in five 4th and 12th graders and one in four 8th graders understand complex mathematics theory and problems. Similar findings appear in measurements of reading ability.

Why? As long as children bring home reasonably acceptable grades and don't get in trouble, most parents are satisfied with the education system. But grades tell very little about whether a child is getting an acceptable education. Is the subject matter challenging and important? Can children apply what they have learned? Is it relevant in today's world?

International comparisons tell us that many of our children aren't learning as much as they should--not because they lack ability, but because they have not been challenged or given opportunities to learn at high levels. For example, while most American 13-year-olds are reviewing basic arithmetic concepts, nearly all Japanese pre-high school students are taking advanced math classes. Only 35% of American students graduate from high school having completed courses in basic and intermediate algebra and geometry. Only 7% complete calculus.

Similarly, nearly a third of high school mathematics teachers have no degree in either mathematics or math education. And despite the fact that three years ago the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommended that all students should use computers and calculators in class, only 20% of 8th graders have computers in their classrooms and only 56% use calculators regularly.

3. More than one in ten students fail to complete high school (Goal 2).

Do our adolescents:

                            |                                  |       Complete high school? | Yes 88%                   No 12% |                             |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNN|                             +------+------+------+------+------+                             0%    20%    40%    60%    80%   100% 
Even with a diploma, many young people face a difficult future. Without it, their prospects are dismal. Yet 12% of our adolescents fail to complete high school.

In the past, the American economy could absorb most high school dropouts. Today, most high school dropouts "need not apply." Except for the most menial labor, employers demand workers with high skills or the ability to quickly learn them. Today's dropouts will earn less than half the amount of someone who dropped out of school in 1973.

Among reasons for leaving school, past academic failure is still a primary reason given by all young people for dropping out. Older adolescents also often cite the difficulties of juggling employment and schoolwork. The truly tragic statistic, though, is the number of girls who leave school because they are pregnant (about one out of every three female dropouts). It is extremely difficult for young mothers to return to and complete high school --a factor that more often than not results in lifelong dependency and/or low-paying jobs. This perpetuates the dropout cycle by negatively affecting the attitudes of these mothers' young children--the next generation--toward school.

4. Today's schools are full of barriers for those who want to work hard (Goal 6).

Do our students:

                            |                                  |            Always feel safe | Yes 50%                   No 50% |         at school (Grade 8) |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                             |                                  |            Believe that the |                                  |       misbehavior of others | Yes 53%                   No 47% |       interferes with their |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|     own learning (Grade 10) |                                  |                             |                                  |        Report being offered |                                  |      drugs while at school? | Yes 18%                   No 82% |                  (Grade 10) |YYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                             +------+------+------+------+------+                             0%    20%    40%    60%    80%   100% 
Too many schools are not safe and conducive to learning. Some have become war zones, where gunplay and violence are common. Ten percent of 10th graders reported in 1992 that they had brought a weapon to school at least once during the previous month. Fifty percent report that they feel unsafe at school, at least occasionally. Over half say that the misbehavior of others in class interferes with their own learning.

A national effort to make schools and their immediate neighborhoods drug-free began several years ago. But drugs are still widespread in many of our schools. In 1992, nearly one in five 10th graders said that they had been approached in school during the past year by someone trying to sell or give them illegal drugs.

We cannot expect students to learn under these conditions. Schools can be orderly and safe places for learning only if parents and communities join them in making sure that students feel secure on their way to and from school. Their safety and well-being ought to be top priorities of educators and parents, and top priorities of their communities as well.

5. In a country in which a highly skilled workforce is critical to the economy, many Americans have only mediocre basic literacy. And even these average skills are declining among young adults (Goal 5).

Can our adults perform challenging literacy tasks in:

                          |                                  |                  Reading? | Yes 52%                   No 48% |                           |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                           |                                  |             Understanding | Yes 49%                   No 51% |                documents? |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                           |                                  |               Arithmetic? | Yes 52%                   No 48% |                           |YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN|                           +------+------+------+------+------+                           0%    20%    40%    60%    80%   100% 
The United States is a literate society--on the basis of how literacy was defined a century ago! All but a small percentage of our population can write and read simple tasks. For a long time, however, much more has been required to be considered literate, and in recent years, the definition of literacy has been raised quite a bit. A decade ago a mechanic could get by with basic skills, a toolbox and a simply written manual. Today, a mechanic needs to know statistical quality control, understand how to work with computers, and read manuals written for someone with at least a 12th grade education.

According to information in this year's Goals Report, most Americans still believe that they can read and write well. But most of these same people can only complete minor literacy tasks, and even college graduates have only mediocre literacy skills. More disturbing is the fact that the literacy levels of young adults have declined in the past seven years.

At the same time, businesses need employees with higher skills. The American workplace, like the education system, is undergoing a radical transformation--but businesses are changing more quickly than schools. Businesses are selecting workers who have the education or have demonstrated skill levels adequate for high-technology workplaces and for solving problems. They are investing their training dollars in workers who are better prepared to continue their education. Consequently, workers who know and understand more are much more likely to have stable employment and earn more than workers with lower levels of literacy.

The changes in the workplace have been so profound and so rapid that many Americans are not yet aware of them. For example, American workers are much less likely than workers in Germany or Japan to believe that they should be expected to suggest improvements in how to perform their jobs. And a 57% majority of American workers believe that their skills will be adequate in the immediate years ahead--compared to only 13% of Japanese workers.

How Are We Doing? Table of Contents The Need for Nationwide Standards

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