One of the favorite tactics of corporate reformers is to set lofty goals.

We have learned over the past twenty years that you can’t have reform without goals.

I remember back when No Child Left Behind was passed, and it included the goal (mandate, actually) that all students in grades 3-8 would be proficient by the year 2014. (By the way, if anyone wonders, I was not an architect of NCLB. I wasn’t involved at any point in writing it. That distinction goes to Sandy Kress, Margaret Spellings, Education Trust, and maybe even Rod Paige, who was Secretary of Education.)

I remember the six  national goals set in 1990 by the nation’s governors and the George W. Bush administration. Goal one was, “By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.” There was also, “By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.” The Clinton administration added two more national goals I don’t think any of the national goals were met, but there were no punishments attached to them so they quietly disappeared.

With NCLB, everything changed. Suddenly, there were real consequences attached to not meeting a goal (100% proficiency) that no nation in the world had ever reached.

Schools that persistently failed to make “adequate yearly progress” would eventually be closed or turned over to a private management company or turned into a charter (same difference) or taken over by the state or staff would be fired. At the time, none of these sanctions had any evidence behind them. They still don’t. No state had ever taken over a school and made it a better school. Charters had almost no record at all. And private management companies had failed to demonstrate that they knew how to “fix” schools with low scores.

So now we have moved on to higher levels of goal-setting, since that is what business strategists like to do. Reformers must have goals! And goals must have accountability!

When I was in Detroit, the local business-civic groups that wanted to take over the schools said that if they were given a free hand, the graduation rate would rise to 90% in ten years. Well, why not 100%, as long as they were making promises? Why only 90%?

In Indianapolis, a local group of corporate reformers has proposed the usual remedy of privatization and promised remarkable achievements, come the by-and-by.

In Philadelphia, the former gas company executive who is currently in charge promised that if the plan he purchased from the Boston Consulting Group were adopted…well, you know, a dramatic increase in test scores, graduation rates, etc.

As I wrote just yesterday, Mike Miles—the Broad-trained military man who holds his troops in low regard—pledged grand goals for 2020.

But my current favorite goal is the one pledged by John White, the Broad-trained Commissioner of Education in Louisiana. White has promised that by 2014, all students in Louisiana would be proficient. ( Now, the reason I especially like this goal is that the timeline is so short. That means that we can hold Commissioner White accountable for results in only two years! If 100% of Louisiana’s students are not proficient in 2014, he has failed.

Now there is a man willing to stake his career and reputation on his goals. That’s impressive.

I wouldn’t exactly take that pledge to the bank, but I think we should treat his promise seriously and hold him to it in 2014.