- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush lauded the states yesterday for embracing their marching orders: Increase school testing, improve teaching and raise achievement like never before.

Mr. 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 overhaul of elementary and secondary education known as the No Child Left Behind law.

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

Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Bush. “This is a watershed moment.”

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.

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,” Mr. 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 three through eight.

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

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