Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Clinton:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The Clinton Years: Goals 2000

In 1992, Bill Clinton, a popular Democratic governor of Arkansas who had been instrumental in the 1989 education summit and the formulation of the national education goals, was elected president. Clinton's campaign against President Bush focused strongly on commitment to federal action for education. He drew on ideas promoted at the Charlottesville, Virginia, summit and the work of the National Education Goals Panel, on which he served. In addition, he carried forth initiatives from the previous Congress and built on the work of the states undertaking reform. Like Bush, Clinton selected a governor as his secretary of education. In this case, it was Richard Riley, a popular former governor of South Carolina who had been active with the Southern Regional Education Board in its work to raise standards and performance in the South. Riley would serve with Clinton all eight years he was in office, making him the longest-tenured secretary of education in history.

Clinton's first legislative proposal-and success-was called Goals 2000: The Educate America Act. Introduced in 1993, the act was influenced by recommendations from the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, the Goals Panel, and the experience of states with systemic reforms. In the act, Congress legislated the six national goals of the National Education Goals Panel while adding two more, which focused on teacher quality and parental responsibility. These last two topics met with opposition from many early advocates of national goals, who wanted to restrict goals to student performance. The Goals 2000 legislation passed in February 1994, four and a half years after the education summit and a year into Clinton's first term.

The core of Goals 2000 was a grant program to support state development of standards and assessments and school district implementation of standards-based reform. Goals 2000 was not another discrete federal program, and it required very little regulation. It recognized, and supported, the systemic reform efforts that many states had under way. Any state that was basically adhering to the idea of standards-based, systemic reform and had a planning process to support that effort could get funding under Goals 2000. It was an unusual federal program because it did not target a particular group of students or subject areas; rather, it supported a generic reform strategy that emphasized the development of state standards and the assessments needed to measure progress toward them. It required that in the last three of five years, most of the funds were to go to local districts and schools to implement state standards.


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Footnotes: The PDF version of this essay contains extensive footnotes that include numerous citations and supplementary text. For ease of reading, the footnotes are omitted from this version.


To view snapshots of the political context for the Clinton administrations, see Education Policymakers 1993-1996 and 1997-2000.