Statement of Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley Regarding the Goals 2000: Educate America Act Primary Source eText

Primary Source

Richard Riley, Secretary of Education to President Clinton. GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Richard Riley, Secretary of Education to President Clinton. GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.


By: Richard W. Riley

Date: September 12, 1995

Source: Riley, Richard W. Statement of Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and Related Agencies Regarding the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Available online at; website home page: (accessed April 19, 2003).

About the Author: Richard W. Riley (1933–) was born in South Carolina, where he attended Furman University and South Carolina School of Law. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1954 to 1956, then returned to South Carolina to pursue a career in law and state government. He served as governor of South Carolina from 1978 to 1986. Riley became U.S. secretary of education in 1993.


Goals 2000, much like A Nation at Risk, grew out of the concern for better education. President George H.W. Bush called the program "America 2000," but President Bill Clinton changed the name to "Goals 2000." The goals expanded from six to eight before a law finally passed Congress in 1994. In April 1996, Congress amended the act, deleting the commissions and other regulatory aspects of the act. Funding for the National Education Goals program ended June 30, 2001.

The program began in the first Bush administration and was carried on by President Clinton. President George Bush convened the National Education Summit at Charlottesville, Virginia, in September 1989. This meeting, which forty-nine governors attended, is remembered as a historic occasion in educational reform. A committee called the National Education Goals Panel formed and began work. In March 1994, President Clinton signed Goals 2000: Educate America Act (H.R. 1804), reinforcing the eight goals that the committee concluded were important.

When Richard Riley was named U.S. secretary of education in 1993, he became part of the effort to formulate the goals and to advocate for their implementation. His statements on September 12, 1995, emphasized that reform would not occur overnight and that steady progress was being made. He cited higher test scores and tougher classes as prime examples. Goals 2000 was meant to be flexible and to allow for creativity in the schools. States could apply for grants to fund programs in schools and districts. States were also allowed to decide if they would participate in the program or not. Riley and his staff worked to gain support for Goals 2000 by traveling across the country, speaking in communities and to teachers about the future of children.


Like most of the governmental reform programs, Goals 2000 was purposefully vague. The goals included school readiness, lifelong learning, an increase in high school graduation rates, and demonstrations of competency in "challenging" subjects. Increased parental involvement, professional opportunities for teachers, and drug-and violence-free schools rounded out the goals. These are not significantly different from previous proposals to reform schools in America.

Riley was a proponent of improving schools while maintaining state and local control. This was the primary selling point to communities and educators. Because local and state control would be retained, the program appeared to be promising. Some educators were not convinced, however. Some argued that standards failed to address problems of hunger and homelessness many children faced and would not by themselves lead to excellence. Others objected to the bureaucratic programs that the act created. The nature of the educational assessment that Goals 2000 advocated was the focus of a special issue of The Clearing House in March/April 1995. Authors in the volume reviewed research and questioned if national tests were really the answer to reform.

As secretary of education, Riley frequently spoke and wrote about the educational goals of the act. Funding, of course, is at the heart of making any program a success. The occasion of Riley's speech cited here was to convince listeners that money would go to local schools and not be lost to bureaucratic functions. Despite the examples that Riley provides, the goals of the grant and demonstration programs appear vague. Funding for the program stopped in the early twenty-first century, and educators and reformers moved on to discover yet other answers to what were perceived as failing schools.

Primary Source: Statement of Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley Regarding the Goals 2000: Education America Act [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: Goals 2000 required $700 million in funding. In the budget, grants to individual states and local schools had to be provided. This was a critical issue for Congress to tackle. Riley's job, in part, was to advocate for the funding and to explain misconceptions about the educational goals of the country.

Goals 2000 provides support to States, local communities and schools to help design and implement the school improvements most needed in that particular State or community—it is grassroots, bottom-up reform.

Goals 2000 creates a partnership between the Federal Government and States and communities working to improve their schools. Goals 2000 asks States to (1) set challenging academic standards; (2) develop their own comprehensive education reforms; and (3) do this with broad-based grass roots parental involvement. In return, the Federal Government provides funds and flexibility. Ninety percent of the dollars that this Subcommittee appropriates for Goals 2000 flows to local school districts and schools.

The Department has issued no regulations for Goals 2000. Under Goals 2000, States can receive waivers from other Federal laws if these regulations are limiting a State or local community's own approach to improving their schools. In addition, the historic "Ed-Flex" Demonstration Program gives six States the power to waive certain federal education regulations themselves. Oregon and Kansas have already been given this authority. We are fully committed to reducing federal education regulations. That is why one-third of all Federal education regulations that were on the books when I was sworn in no longer exist.

Goals 2000 Is Already Having an Impact

Forty-seven States are participating in Goals 2000 and have received their first-year grants. In addition, 24 States have received their second year funds already.

The response to Goals 2000 has been enthusiastic, and States have found Goals 2000 to be a "user-friendly" program, both because of the flexibility and our streamlined application process. Local interest in participating in Goals 2000 is also very strong. Initial evidence is that local applications for State Goals 2000 funds have exceeded available funds by between 200 and 600 percent, depending on the State.

I want to give you a few examples of how Goals 2000 funds are supporting school improvement:

  • Michigan is using Goals 2000 funds to help local school districts adopt standards and core curricula in the academic subjects.
  • In Burlington, Vermont, students at the Wheeler Elementary School receive daily intensive instruction from university student tutors, student teachers, parent volunteers and foster grandparents.
  • In Kentucky, Goals 2000 is helping Harrison County to strengthen parental involvement in education by training teachers to recruit parents as volunteer instructional aides and by reaching out to parents through cable television programs and homework hotlines.
  • In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Goals 2000 funds are helping to implement a new management structure—reorganizing six large regions into 22 smaller ones to provide school leaders maximum flexibility to implement school improvements.
  • Massachusetts is using Goals 2000 funds to pay the start-up costs of 14 charter schools.

These examples demonstrate clearly the wide range of activities that Goals 2000 funding supports.

For fiscal year 1996, President Clinton has proposed to expand this partnership by providing $750 million for Goals 2000. This level of funding could help as many as 17,000 schools. The House did not provide any FY 1996 funding for Goals 2000. I believe the House action, unless reversed by the Senate, threatens to deal a tremendous setback to education reform in America, one from which we might not recover for a good many years.

Myths and Misconceptions about Goals 2000

Unfortunately the current debate over Goals 2000 rests largely on misconceptions about what the program actually does. The attacks on Goals 2000 are one part myth, one part misinformation and one part the politics of pandering. At the extreme, as The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out in a front page story, Goals 2000 is depicted as a United Nations cabal, mind control, and even a plot to take guns out of the homes of gun owners. All this is a little much. Here we are in the middle of an extraordinary era of new knowledge and information, and public leaders—who should know better—are listening to people who would lead us backwards.

Whatever the source, the false assertions are easily refuted. Perhaps the most common statement is that Goals 2000 will lead to a Federal takeover of local education. As a former Governor of South Carolina, I am very sensitive to concerns about Federal intrusion in local affairs, and I am a strong believer in the long American tradition of local control of education. I would not have supported Goals 2000 if I thought it remotely threatened to undermine that tradition. You don't have to take my word on that, however. Just look at the statute itself. Section 318 makes it absolutely clear that there are no mandates, and there will be no Federal takeover; and Section 319 specifically reaffirms that control of education is reserved to States and local school systems. Clearly, those who warn of a Federal takeover are raising fears without a shred of justification.

Further Resources


Carleton, David. Landmark Congressional Laws on Education. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2002. Goals 2000: A Progress Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1995.

Jennings, John F. Why National Standards and Tests?: Politics and the Quest for Better Schools. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1998.


Cookson, Peter, Jr. "Goals 2000: Framework for the New Educational Federalism." Teachers College Record 96, no. 3, Spring 1995, 405–417.

"Educational Assessment: Local and National Changes." The Clearing House 68, no. 4, March/April 1995.

Ohanian, Susan. "Goals 2000: What's in a Name?" Phi Delta Kappan 81, no. 5, January 2000, 344–355.

Riley, Richard W. "Reflections on Goals 2000." Teachers College Record 96, no. 3, Spring 1995, 380–388.


National Education Goals Panel. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed April 19, 2003).