Although he predicted exactly what is happening in education today, the brilliant Daniel Patrick Moynihan was not presentient.
He was simply meticulous in his scholarship and forthright when he predicted 20 years ago that the United States would utterly fail to reach the academic goals set by the Educate America Act.
Moynihan explained why the to his colleagues in the U.S. Senate in 1994 when the bill was being debated. Democrat Moynihan pointed to two quantifiable goals in particular in the education bill. They are:
By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent and the United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.
Both goals were utterly delusional, he said at the time.
''And it is to me incomprehensible that the Department of Education would not know this. And say so. For I would say to you that we are not just setting goals, we are setting standards," he said.
For the record, the graduation rate in New York state for the class of 2011 stood at 74 percent. Nationwide it is in that same range. In a 2010 report, students in the United States were ranked 25th out of 34 countries in mathematics, 14th in reading and 21st in science by the Program for International Student Assessment.
''What does it say about us that we feel compelled to set goals that quite obviously cannot be met? Are we in a permanent state of denial about this?" Moynihan asked his colleagues in the Senate 20 years ago.
By "this" he meant a finding in a series of studies and surveys dating back to the 1960s and continuing into the 1990s that identified a key component in student academic achievement - a component ignored by federal education goals.
The path-breaking report by James S. Coleman, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, and his colleagues, was published in 1966.
Moynihan said the report's basic finding was "seismic" - and it also was studiously ignored by government and by legislation aimed at improving the quality of education in America.
The finding was that ''schools are remarkably similar in the effect they have on the achievement of their pupils when the socioeconomic background of the students is taken into account."
It is, in direct wording, all about the family.
Moynihan cited a 1992 study by Paul E. Barton, director of the Educational Testing Service policy information center, who said five family-centered behaviors could predict average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress:
days absent from school
hours spent watching television
pages read for homework
quantity and type of reading material in the home
presence of two parents in the home
The official federal educational goals and programs to implement those goals simply ignored that fact.
Moynihan came to mind last week as the governor and state Legislature were at odds trying to agree on the details of whether formal teacher evaluations should be made public or given only to parents.
It is as if we think teachers' talents are the determining factor in the educational achievements of students who come to school distraught because Mom is in jail or who do not know where they will get their next meal or where they will sleep that night or who have no quiet place to do their homework - or who have parents who simply are not engaged in their education.
What Moynihan said two decades ago speaks to what we continue to do today.
We were delusional in ignoring Coleman's findings in the 1960s and Barton's report just 20 years ago.
And we continue to be delusional today.