Perhaps the single most important effort to turn the focus toward outcomes was that of the National Governors' Association (NGA). They gave the outcome approach far-reaching policy attention beginning in the mid-1980s, when they decided to devote twelve months to investigating one subject—education. They focused on education for one direct and simple reason: "Better schools mean better jobs. To meet stiff competition from workers in the rest of the world, we must educate ourselves and our children as we never have before....Schools and school districts [must] produce better results."[8] In short, the governors cast their lot with those arguing that the time had come to place primary emphasis on what people learn-the outcomes they achieve.

The approach endorsed by the governors gathered further momentum in 1989, when President Bush invited them to meet at an Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. The President and the governors agreed to set six ambitious national education goals—outcomes—from early childhood through lifelong learning that they would work to achieve by the year 2000.

Briefly, the goals state that by the year 2000

  • All children will start school ready to learn.

  • At least 90 percent of all students will graduate from high school.

  • All students will demonstrate competence in challenging subject matter.

  • U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science.

  • Every adult will be literate.

  • Every school will be safe and drug-free.

One fundamental idea underlies these goals. In the words of the summit participants, "We want to swap red tape for results.... [build] a system of accountability that focuses on results.... and issue annual Report Cards on progress."[9] In 1991, the U.S. Department of Education began supporting efforts to develop voluntary national education standards and tests.

Creating world-class standards involves three things. First, clear definitions, within subject areas, of what students should know and be able to do-content standards. Second, achievement levels that specify what depth of knowledge is "good enough"—performance standards. Third, tests that report whether children are learning what they are taught.

These standards and tests, however, should not be higher hurdles for fewer to jump. They must raise expectations and let all students know what to aim for. High standards should be the primary way to boost the academic achievement of all children and provide them with an equal opportunity to learn. Widespread access to high standards that reflect a rich and challenging curriculum advances the twin goals of educational excellence and equity.

Finally, standards need not lead to uniformity, standardization, or a national curriculum. The means to achieving them can and should be left to individual schools, teachers, parents, and communities.