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Bush Commends States' Education Efforts


June 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON -- President Bush lauded the states Tuesday for embracing their marching orders: increase school testing, improve teaching and raise achievement like never before.

Bush chose a sunny Rose Garden setting to announce that his administration has approved tougher school accountability plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. More broadly, the ceremony put a spotlight back on his original domestic priority, the landmark overhaul of elementary and secondary education known as the No Child Left Behind law.

"The era of low expectations and low standards is ending," Bush said. "A time of great hopes and proven results is arriving."

Bush and Congress ordered the state measures through the No Child Left Behind law. It won bipartisan backing in 2001, but that's eroding as Democrats, including presidential contenders, say Bush has broken his promise to provide enough money for the mandates.

The approval of the state plans was expected this month, just as the submission of the plans was mandated by the end of January. Still, Bush and other Republicans said both steps were meaningful mileposts, the kind states used to ignore.

"This is more than just a significant moment," said Education Secretary Rod Paige, standing next to Bush. "This is a watershed moment."

Education is traditionally a matter for state and local governments, which pick up about 90 percent of the cost. But the Bush-backed law created a more forceful federal role, as national leaders grew weary of stagnant test scores and lower achievement among minorities.

The accountability plans show how states will chart "adequate yearly progress" -- not just for a school's overall population, but for subgroups, such as minorities and students who speak little English. States chose their own tests and standards.

"We're worried about how anyone is going to make a national comparison, because the plans are so different," said Terri Schwartzbeck, a policy analyst for the American Association of School Administrators. "Some states are going to have to play by harder rules."

Federal intervention grows by the year for schools that receive federal low-income aid but don't improve. The consequences include letting students transfer to another school in the district, providing private tutoring for free, replacing school staff and -- after five years of school failure -- letting the state take over.

"Some of those schools will undoubtedly have to make tough choices. That's OK," Bush said. "Remember what's at stake: When a student passes from grade to grade without knowing how to read and write, add and subtract, the damage can last a lifetime."

Overall, the goal is to get every child proficient in math and reading by 2013-14. Every core class must have a "highly qualified" teacher by 2005-06, the same year states must provide more testing, including annual math and reading tests in grades 3-8.

Parents get their own tools: more information about the quality of schools, and more flexibility to move their children out of a bad school.

"It's being received well," said Sandy Garrett, the chief school officer in Oklahoma. "The challenge is in making certain that it's paid for, and making sure all educators are included; getting information to every single classroom is the issue."

While the accountability push has stirred debate, the most notable flap is over money.

"The president is quick to talk about the importance of the new accountability provisions, but we should have included an accountability provision for the Congress and the White House, too," said Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee. "They simply won't cough up the resources to make school reform work."

Bush proposes $53 billion for the Education Department next year, an increase of $2.8 billion. The total includes $22.5 billion for No Child Left Behind programs.

Critics point out the No Child law authorized much more for certain programs, such as $18.5 billion for disadvantaged Title I schools, not Bush's $12.4 billion. Republicans say authorizations were meant to be caps, not promises. Democrats say that's a $6 billion excuse.

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