- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

We all probably wish these were simpler times, and that we could turn back the clock. While many of us would choose the date Sept. 10 for obvious reasons, I would like to return not merely to far more peaceful times but a yesteryear when schools schooled and teachers taught.

Honestly, we need look no further than our newspapers dated Wednesday, Dec. 19 to be reminded that the education bill awaiting President Bush's signature will indeed leave many children behind for many reasons.

For starters let me say that the truly significant benefits to children are three stipulations in the so-called landmark education legislation given final Senate approval on Tuesday: that pupils with limited English prove proficiency in English after three consecutive years; that charter schools receive more money and support; and that churches and religious groups provide tutoring and after-school help. For the most part, it's all downhill from there and the ominous sign is that both Republicans and Democrats are claiming victory.

First, the legislation which, at $26.5 billion, is $4 billion more than initially sought by Mr. Bush will prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare because of testing mandates. Once Mr. Bush puts pen to legislation, and state and local governments make the necessary adjustments, schools will be required to administer annual tests on all students in the third through the eighth grades. Then, each year, teachers and administrators will have to analyze those tests to measure the annual performances of pupils, teachers, principals, administrators, counselors, schools and school districts. Then, after that, all those same same grown-ups will get together with bureaucrats (and in some cases lawyers) on the state and federal side of the equation to determine funding levels. Then, after that, still more adults (this time unions and special interests), will get with still more adults (including your local politicians, unions and special interests) so they all can yell simultaneously, "we need more money and professional development." By the time the yelling's over, parents will have noticed Johnny still can't read and that Jose still isn't proficient in English.

Second, what my conservative friends call tracking really and truly isn't tracking at all. Third, there is no voucher component, and fourth, please, please, please don't believe Sen. Ted Kennedy, who said, "This bill lays a solid foundation for a stronger, better and fairer America in the future."

Ask him, stronger in what sense? Better in what sense? Fairer for whom?

Usually, when those people speak like that they mean black folks only they don't say black. They say things like disadvantaged and underprivileged. Those are the labels that Teddy Kennedy and his ilk became proficient with during the 1960s, when they dismantled one of the best things that ever helped black folks' children.

I'm talking about the educational track system. Do you remember the track system? Generally, it had two paths: academic or vocational. Along those paths were generally three classifications of students: A, B and C. The best and brightest were in the A track, and so on. Some school systems only had two tracks. The point is, or was, our schooling was geared toward either academics or vocational. It was that simple.

Then, along came those people who changed things in our best interests. These are the people who, out of one side of their mouths, identified the missing components as the almighty dollar and a head start. So, they dismantled the track system and created one-size-fits-all educational systems. Within this system was also a pre-school program for disadvantaged children, a program that was supposed to prepare us for school. Now, we spend billions upon billions each year and Johnny still can't read as well as his white counterparts.

Meanwhile, out of the other side of their mouths, these same people are telling us: "Don't worry." They say that the education bill will ensure that, in 12 years, all students in America's public schools will be proficient in reading and math because A) there's more federal money, B) there are tests to track Johnny and Johnny's teachers' performance, and C) Johnny's parents can send him to reading lessons at the Second Coming Church for All Kennedys.

Again, when life was simpler, we used to call a spade a spade. We used to be skeptical of government solutions and the politicians who proposed them. We used to encourage our schools to school, instead of wishing they were babysitters, and we used to encourage our teachers to teach, instead of requiring them to fill out reams of paperwork.

Alas, that was yesteryear. Today, it seems we stand for nothing, not even for our children's sake, and we fall for anything. I say that because, if you follow the red tape established by the landmark education mess, if you follow it from the time Johnny hits first grade to the very end of the 12-year countdown, you'll make a startling discovery.

By the time that countdown is over, Johnny's 12 years will be up.

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