- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

President Bush yesterday pushed House and Senate conferees on his education-reform plan to agree on realistic student-achievement goals and state accountability standards that will permit parents to know whether their children are learning successfully.

Mr. Bush said in a speech to the National Urban League in Washington that reading- and math-achievement standards must be raised everywhere, particularly in the lowest-performing schools. However, he stressed that federal legislation must not make unrealistic demands on school improvement.

"The failure of many urban schools is a great and continuing scandal," Mr. Bush said. "Those in authority must show responsibility."

House and Senate conferees, meeting yesterday to adopt their first agreements on differences between their bills, acknowledged the two sides were still far apart on state testing and accountability standards, funding levels, and consolidation of federal categorical-grant programs to give states and local school districts more flexibility in using federal money.

"Our most significant challenges lie ahead," said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and conference chairman.

The current federal spending authorization is $18.7 billion. The Senate bill raises the level to $31.7 billion next year, plus $98 billion through 2007 for special-education programs. The House bill would spend $22.9 billion next year, with plans to fund special education separately.

Mr. Bush's speech stated three principles for getting a final education-reform bill for his signature:

• Target school-performance goals and federal resources for primary assistance to the lowest-performing schools, which are mainly in poor and minority communities. If failing schools don't improve within three years, parents must be given the choice to transfer their children to a better public school or get private tutoring with government support.

• States must choose their own tests for reading and math achievement, but the results and data for yearly reports by local school districts within a state must be comparable.

• There must be independent confirmation by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), now used by 40 states, that state tests are real and rigorous.

Mr. Bush said federal requirements for immediate, dramatic academic improvement throughout the country would backfire.

"The bar for adequate school performance must be rigorous, achievable, targeted to all groups, and raised gradually. No one should ask that all our goals be met overnight. These goals must be met over time," the president said.

"Setting impossible expectations means setting no expectations. The undoable never gets done," he said. "If we identify all schools as failures, we won't be able to focus on the greatest needs. If goals are unrealistic, teachers will become discouraged instead of challenged, harassed instead of inspired."

Mr. Bush said his insistence on authentic, comparable test data would enable parents to know where schools are succeeding or failing. The NAEP results would serve as "a national report card" to provide an objective check on the validity of state tests, he said.

"State accountability systems count easy tests from some districts and hard tests from others without a method to compare them," Mr. Bush said. "Parents won't really know who is making progress and who is falling behind. Unless there is a fair and consistent measurement among schools, there can be no accountability."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide