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Goals 2000 and Local Reform

by David Lee Stevenson - 1995

The article explains briefly the provisions of Goals 2000, emphasizing its support of ongoing educational change at the state and local levels and state flexibility to develop diverse approaches to reform. To illustrate this flexibility, the article describes reform activities in Vermont, Delaware, and Oregon, and explains how these states are using initial Goals 2000 funds. (Source: ERIC)

There is a call for changing America’s public schools. Such calls are not new. Public education in the United States has been a target of reform almost since its creation. Every reform effort brings an accompanying set of new policies and practices. As reforms wash over classrooms and school buildings in seemingly endless waves, many educators have come to take an attitude “this reform too shall pass.” There are reasons for such an attitude. Many reforms barely leave a trace of their promise and others leave residues that become reasons for further reform.

Goals 2000 is another effort at educational reform. But it is dramatically different from previous federal efforts. Goals 2000 is not a categorical assistance program—it is not directed at only handicapped students, or only bilingual students, or only immigrant students. It is directed at helping all students. Goals 2000 is not focused on the direct provision of services. Its focus is on helping states, localities, and schools engage in the difficult work of school reform.

In many ways, Goals 2000 is a federal response to ongoing educational changes at the state and local level. It is a 1994 law that reflects what many states have been doing and where they want to go. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was intense policy activity at the state and local level. Many states began to develop standards for what students should know and be able to do. By 1992 thirty-five states reported having curriculum frameworks for English/language arts and thirty-eight had them in mathematics. Over twenty-nine states had begun to reform their statewide testing programs and to use curriculum frameworks as the basis for statewide tests.

States were beginning to develop systems of performance accountability to provide information on the performance of schools and school districts. In 1983 only five states reported having some type of performance accountability system, but four years later the number had increased to forty-five. Many of these accountability systems included reporting test results for individuals schools and providing school reports to parents.

States, as well as local districts, were developing and implementing policies to encourage “site-based” management by giving schools a larger role in curricular decisions, hiring decisions, organizing the school day, and spending funds. National surveys of public secondary schools provide some evidence of changes between 1980 and 1992. Principals report having more influence over decisions about hiring new teachers and school discipline policy. They also report that teachers have more influence over school decisions about the curriculum, hiring new teachers, and school disciplinary policy.

Goals 2000 seeks to build on these reform efforts by states and localities by providing federal support. To do so, however, requires a redefinition of the federal role in education and Goals 2000 begins to redefine this role. It provides a framework for reform that is built on a bipartisan agreement developed over several years through the work by the National Governors Association, the National Education Goals Panel, the National Council on Education and Standards, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Congress. Key to the framework is the development of standards for what students should know and be able to do and the alignment of policies and practices to help students reach these standards.


Goals 2000 accomplishes several important things. First, it sets into law the national education goals that establish our expectations for the performance of the national education system. These are the goals agreed to by the President Bush and the governors in 1990 and the bill adds two worthwhile goals on the need to improve teaching and the involvement of parents in their children’s schooling. The law formally establishes the National Education Goals Panel and its role in reporting the nation’s progress toward the goals.

Second, and this is the heart of the bill, Goals 2000 provides funds to states and local school districts to develop and implement plans to reform their education system. As part of their reform efforts, states will develop content and performance standards in the core academic subjects.

Third, Goals 2000 establishes the National Education Standards and Improvement Council (NESIC), which is responsible for certifying voluntary national content and student performance standards as well as opportunity-to-learn standards. And, it establishes the National Skill Standards Board to develop and encourage adoption of a voluntary national system of occupation-specific skill standards, assessments, and certifications.

The role of voluntary national academic standards in Goals 2000 has been frequently misunderstood and perhaps merits greater description. The United States has never had voluntary national standards. It has had de facto national standards that have been set at minimal levels and have had detrimental effects on instruction, assessment, and learning. Instruction has tended to be driven by minimal competency objectives and norm-referenced standardized multiple choice tests.

Developing voluntary national standards that are of high quality is critical to school reform because it will begin and sustain a national dialogue about what students should know and be able to do in academic subjects. It will help to develop a broad consensus about what is important for schools to teach and it will provide a model for states as they begin their own work of setting state content and student performance standards.

Many professional groups are hard at work developing model standards in the different academic disciplines. The mathematics community was the first to develop standards for what students should know and be able to do. These will be followed by model standards in science, geography, arts, history, English language arts, and other subjects. As professional groups and others develop model standards, they can submit these standards to the NESIC for certification as voluntary national standards.

Under Goals 2000, the states are responsible for setting their content and student performance standards. The main criteria are that the standards be challenging and that there is widespread participation in their development. In its reform plan, the state panel will decide what the core academic subjects are and whether there will be interdisciplinary standards.

In developing their standards, states may use as models certified voluntary national standards, other national standards, standards of other states, standards of other countries, or other models. The standards could be developed through committees within the state or through a consortium of states. States will not be required under Goals 2000 to align their content and performance standards with certified voluntary national standards. Nor will states be required under Goals 2000 or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to have their content and performance standards certified by NESIC. If states decide to submit their standards, NESIC may certify state content and student performance standards if such standards are comparable in rigor and quality to the voluntary national content and student performance standards certified by NESIC.

Under Goals 2000, states will develop high-quality assessments aligned to their state standards. These assessments do not have to be submitted to NESIC for certification. A state can participate fully in Goals 2000 and not submit anything for review or certification to NESIC. NESIC is there for states that want to use it and it is likely that some states will choose to use it and some states will choose not to.

As states develop standards for what students should know and be able to do, they will want these standards to be useful; to represent the most important knowledge, skills, and understandings expected from students; to be grounded in sound pedagogical practice; and to allow for flexibility in the design of curriculum.


Goals 2000 is primarily designed to provide support to state and local reform efforts. To do so requires flexibility in the use of funds so that the shape and contours of reform are determined not by federal statute but through state and local efforts. Perhaps the best way of illustrating this flexibility is to talk about how a few states are using their Goals 2000 funds.


Vermont developed the Green Mountain Challenge in 1991 because of the feeling that the current education system could not provide every student with needed skills. Vermont’s vision was simply stated: high skills for every student, no exceptions, no excuses. Such a vision could not be fulfilled by making marginal changes; it would require dramatic changes.

The Green Mountain Challenge described three broad tasks: establishing student content and performance standards that equal or exceed standards in other states or countries, building a comprehensive assessment system to determine whether the standards are being met, and developing an education system that provides opportunities for all students to learn.

Work has been underway on each of the three tasks. In 1993, the Vermont State Board of Education adopted Vermont’s Common Core of Learning, a statement of what all students should know and be able to do. The Common Core was developed through extensive public involvement and it represents the views of more than 4,000 Vermonters who actively participated. The Common Core includes twenty “vital results” for all students, and these are grouped under the headings Communication, Reasoning and Problem Solving, Personal Development, and Social Responsibility. Examples of vital results are “writes effectively for a variety of purposes” and “applies logical strategies to solve problems.”

Vermont created a task force to develop a framework for curriculum and assessment based on the Common Core. This framework includes content standards and student performance standards as well as the types of learning experiences students will need to reach the content and student performance standards. The framework will serve as a guide for planning, developing, and coordinating curriculum and assessment at the state, district, and local levels.

The framework for curriculum and assessment has three strands: history and the social sciences, arts and humanities, and science, mathematics, and technology. Vermont has created three Academic Commissions to develop content standards and a description of essential learning experiences for Vermont’s framework. There is a steering committee that is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the Academic Commissions and for creating, based on the work of the Academic Commissions, a single, comprehensive, multidisciplinary curriculum framework. The first draft of the content standards was released in the summer of 1994 and it organized the content standards for specific fields of knowledge by the four areas of vital results. People were invited to review and respond to this draft document.

The purpose of the framework is to “provide direction and focus for improving the quality of education and assessment for all Vermont learners, in grades K–12. The framework will encourage local independence and the development of locally relevant curriculum. It will be up to each district, school and each classroom teacher to determine how these standards can be reached.”1

Vermont has been a national leader in the development of assessments based primarily on portfolios of real student work in the areas of writing and mathematics at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. The work on assessment has involved expert teachers who were responsible for many of the main tasks—creating performance standards, selecting pieces of student work, scoring the results, and designing a teacher education program based on the results.

Within a month of the release of the results, the state department had organized five weeklong teacher institutes in mathematics and within two months every fourth- and eighth-grade teacher was a member of a teacher network sharing their knowledge of what works in the classroom.

The work of teachers on the development of portfolio assessments has proven to be an important professional development activity. The current challenge is to tie the portfolio assessments to the standards of the curriculum framework. The statewide Assessment Committee has been developing a transitional plan that addresses this issue.

Vermont has also developed annual school report nights, in which the school invites the community to come to the school for a presentation and discussion of student performance. The walls and desks of the school are covered with student work.

While this brief description does not do justice to all of the components of Vermont’s reform strategy, we can see how Vermont is going to use its Goals 2000 funds. First, Vermont wanted to review its Green Mountain Challenge—reexamine its components and see how they tie together. Vermont knew that its dropout rate had remained rather stable and too high. It decided that it needed to develop and implement a dropout retention and prevention program.

Vermont wanted to establish school, district, and community indicators that will be used to determine whether students are being provided the opportunity to reach the Common Core/Curriculum Framework standards. Vermont wanted to make grants to local education associations (LEAs) to develop and implement school-improvement plans and to provide funds to enhance professional development and preservice education.

All of these uses of Goals 2000 funds fit into Vermont’s reform strategy. Goals 2000 simply provided some extra fuel and momentum to ongoing state and local reform efforts.


In 1992, Delaware began its reform, New Directions for Education in Delaware. The reform has four priorities: standards and curriculum, assessments and instruction, capacity building and local implementation, and partnerships. Delaware is working on curriculum frameworks in mathematics, science, social studies, and English language arts. Delaware also is developing performance-based assessments in mathematics, writing, and reading at grades 3, 5, 8, and 10. The reform plan of New Directions will serve as the cornerstone of the state’s Goals 2000 plan.

With its Goals 2000 funds, Delaware will establish a demonstration program called “First Schools in the First State.” This program will be focused on capacity-building at the school level. These schools will pilot locally developed curriculum aligned with the new state standards. In subsequent years, Delaware intends to expand the demonstration model to involve more schools and districts. As these schools become “First Schools in the First State,” they will be mentored by more experienced schools.

Delaware plans to make three local Goals 2000 grants to vertical teams of schools within a district (a high school and feeder schools) to enable them to develop local reform plans. Delaware will also make an award through a competitive process to establish the first professional development school in the southern part of the state. The professional development school will provide a quality learning environment for all students and will be a university/district/school partnership.

Delaware will also provide support for the development of teacher standards and assessments by providing funds to the Delaware Professional Standards Council. The work of this council will serve to connect Delaware’s new standards and assessments for students with teacher licensure standards to help ensure that all teachers can provide effective instruction to help students meet the high academic standards.


In 1991, Oregon passed the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century, which set in motion the most extensive state effort to restructure the public school system. The state board of education and the superintendent of public instruction launched a statewide planning effort involving people from all sectors of Oregon society. It established the 21st Century School Advisory Committee, which oversees the entire school improvement effort. This committee will serve as the state’s Goals 2000 panel.

The foundation of the statewide reform efforts are two certificates: the Certificate of Initial Mastery and the Certificate of Advanced Mastery. Students begin working on the Certificate of Initial Mastery in kindergarten and continue until about age sixteen, or tenth grade. After receiving the Certificate of Initial Mastery, students will begin working on a Certificate of Advanced Mastery in one of six areas (arts and communication, business and management, health services, human resources, industrial and engineering systems, and natural resource systems).

Responsibility for awarding these certificates rests with the local school district, based on student performance measured against state student performance standards. The state is working on procedures to assure that schools are making comparable decisions.

The certificates will require the same high standards of performance of all students, but the assessment tasks will be structured so that students can demonstrate their achievement through a variety of formats. The common statewide tasks and assessments will take place at grades 3, 5, and 8 and the Certificate of Initial Mastery at grade ten or around age sixteen. Ongoing classroom assessments will provide students with continuous feedback regarding their progress toward meeting the initial mastery outcomes. Oregon had been an active participant in the New Standards Project and is developing assessment models that include tasks, portfolio guidelines, and judging procedures to help schools implement the certificate program.

The Oregon Educational Act reinforces the role of site councils—school-based groups with responsibility for the professional growth and career opportunities of a school’s staff. They also are responsible for improvement of the school’s instructional program. Site councils are composed of teachers, parents of students, building administrators, and others. On a school site council a majority must be active classroom teachers. These three states illustrate the flexibility of Goals 2000. They are using Goals 2000 funds to build on and further their state reform efforts. They are using the funds to look over their educational policies and to bring these policies into alignment. They are using the funds to develop state standards for what students should know and be able to do and a set of aligned assessments. And they are providing money to local school districts to build curriculum and implement local reform plans.

But the states are going about reform in different ways. Vermont’s reforms are built around its Common Core, which will lead to a single comprehensive multidisciplinary curriculum framework. Delaware is building its reforms around four sets of academic standards. Oregon’s reforms are built around certificates of mastery and the transition from school to work and postsecondary education. What all of these states share is an effort to work toward systemic reform—when all the state and local policies and practices will work together to help all students achieve high standards.


Goals 2000 is relatively simple but at the same time difficult to describe. It is simple because the law is simple. It is not filled with requirements and there is not a long list of regulations. It is difficult because there is no “one-size-fits-all” mandated reform. What Goals 2000 will be depends on what states and localities do with the opportunities it creates. Goals 2000 provides an opportunity for change but taking advantage of that opportunity falls to everyone—states, localities, and schools. It falls to parents, teachers, principals, school board members, students, and all of a state’s citizens. It will happen in a meaningful way only if there is a deep and long-term commitment to changing schools by focusing them again on teaching and learning.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 96 Number 3, 1995, p. 458-466
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 7:26:23 PM

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