- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

JACKSON, Tenn. Vice President Al Gore, pushing a policy issue a day in the home stretch of the presidential campaign, yesterday attacked Texas Gov. George W. Bush's education record as he tried to nail down his home state.

Mr. Gore his eyes bleary and voice raspy from marathon campaign days still presides over rah-rah rallies, as he did yesterday afternoon at Jackson Fairgrounds Park in western Tennessee.

But with 13 days to go, Mr. Gore intersperses such rallies with dense policy addresses, hoping voters will decide the race is on issues and not on personality.

At Tennessee State University in Nashville early yesterday, Mr. Gore used an education address to aggressively question Mr. Bush's claims of academic progress in Texas.

Mr. Gore cited a Rand study, issued Tuesday, that found that while the gap between minority students and white students narrowed on state test scores, Texas students did not achieve the same gains on national tests.

"The study reported that contrary to all that we've been told, the achievement gap for Texas students has not narrowed, it has widened," Mr. Gore said at Tennessee State, a historically black university.

"We cannot afford to just teach kids how to take a state test, while leaving them with serious learning deficits, any more than we can afford to cook the books and bust our budget," Mr. Gore said.

"We need to measure performance with tests that have integrity," Mr. Gore said. "We need to put an end to what's called teaching to the test and any other short cuts that produce illusory test scores that might elevate the reputations of school administrators and politicians but actually do nothing to really raise standards or lift up our children."

The Bush campaign disputed the new Rand study and called it politically motivated.

"The progress in Texas is indisputable," Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "Independent data shows that Texas is a national leader in student achievement.

"The 14-page opinion paper released by four researchers two weeks before the election directly contradicts every credible, nonpartisan, scientific study that verifies the success in Texas," Mr. Bartlett said.

A "cottage industry" of liberal critics has been attacking the Texas education record ever since Mr. Bush began his campaign, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jay P. Greene wrote in the summer issue of City Journal.

Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that "improvement in Texas schools was sizable," Mr. Greene wrote, citing gains of 4.6 percent in math scores for eighth-graders and 1.9 percent in reading scores for fourth-graders.

"Texas NAEP score increases were among the highest across states," Rand researcher David Grissmer said yesterday. Mr. Grissmer, lead author of a July Rand report that cited Texas as a national leader in educational improvement, said those findings "were not challenged" by the Rand "issue paper" touted by the Gore campaign.

Mr. Gore yesterday spent precious hours in Tennessee, trying to nail down 11 electoral votes in the state he represented in the House and Senate for 16 years. Mr. Gore told a television station in Nashville that Tennessee is "a classic border state" with strong contingents of Democrats and Republicans.

Gore aides believe the vice president is running strong in western Tennessee. But he faces a tougher battle for voters in the central Nashville suburbs and in eastern cities, such as Chattanooga and Knoxville.

No president has lost his home state since Democrat Woodrow Wilson failed to capture New Jersey in 1916.

Mr. Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, sought to shore up their base in Tennessee, campaigning among black supporters in Nashville and among a largely Democratic crowd in Jackson.

"It's great to be home in Tennessee. It's great to be home in my mother's home city," Mr. Gore said yesterday afternoon at Jackson Fairgrounds Park.

The tickets to the event read: "Please join Jackson in welcoming home Tennessee's son."

Mr. Gore, wearing a white dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves, prowled the stage, clearly comfortable on familiar turf. He asked his relatives in the crowd of several thousand to raise their hands. Dozens of people responded.

"I have kept the faith with Tennessee," Mr. Gore said. "I have kept the faith with my country. I have kept the faith with my family."

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