- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

COLUMBUS, Ohio President Bush yesterday forcefully laid out his case for regular and thorough testing of the nation's schoolchildren, saying it is the only way to discover which schools are failing and need to be held accountable.
"How do you know if you don't measure? How can you possibly judge whether or not a child is learning to read and write and add and subtract unless we know?" Mr. Bush said, his voice rising.
Making his first foray outside Washington to push his education plan, Mr. Bush pledged to seek congressional approval for $5 billion over five years to promote reading.
Under his program dubbed "Reading First" the amount of reading money available for local districts will triple next year to $900 million, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The president made the case for testing the same day Education Secretary Rod Paige announced that the Bush administration would ask Congress to increase federal grants for needy college students by more than 50 percent and fully fund the grants for freshmen.
"By doing this, we will be assisting disadvantaged, allowing them to complete the critical first year of college and dramatically improving their prospects for receiving a degree," Mr. Paige said to warm applause from college chiefs attending the three-day American Council on Education (ACE) meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.
Mr. Bush, speaking at a majority-black school in Columbus yesterday, said schools that fail to teach children year after year no longer will escape accountability.
"One of the things that I'm insisting that the Congress enact is a law that says, if you receive federal money, either the state or the local jurisdiction must measure to show us whether or not children are learning," Mr. Bush said at the Sullivant Elementary School, sandwiched between warehouses and dumping grounds on the outskirts of Ohio's capital city.
"The heart of education reform is accountability. The heart of making sure every child learns and no child is left behind is accountability… . There must be a consequence."
The program represents one of the first concrete education proposals from Mr. Bush, who is preparing to address Congress next week to tout his agenda. During his campaign, Mr. Bush proposed increasing spending by nearly $48 billion over 10 years to improve schools. The $5 billion for reading is expected to be a part of that figure.
In Washington, Mr. Paige's announcement of the higher education component of the Bush administration's school-reform package met with strong approval at the annual ACE meeting.
"I want to support it in every way I can," said Michael F. Adams, president of the University of Georgia and outgoing chairman of ACE's board of directors. "I'm for anything that increases access and quality."
The popular Pell grant for college undergraduates, now capped at $3,300, would be increased to $5,100 per year for eligible students, Mr. Paige told presidents of several hundred colleges and universities attending the meeting.
The Bush administration will ask Congress to "fully fund" the grant program for first-year students, the education secretary said.
The president's higher education plan also proposes "enhanced Pell grants for students who take college-level math and science courses in high school" an additional $1,000 toward college tuition for incoming college students who pass advanced-placement math and science exams, Mr. Paige said.
Another proposal for federal matching funds will "challenge states to establish college merit scholarship programs … for students who take a rigorous course load in high school," the secretary said.
The Pell grant program now is funded at $3.75 billion a year. The boost proposed by the Bush administration was termed "historic" by Joe Karpinski, spokesman for Sen. James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Mr. Jeffords will "definitely support" the Pell grant increase, his spokesman said.
Even as Mr. Paige drew applause for the administration's college plans, Mr. Bush pushed a testing proposal that is likely to meet resistance from teachers unions and their Democratic allies in Congress.
At the Sullivant Elementary School, Mr. Bush posed what he called the "fundamental question": How can anyone administrators, principals, teachers, parents, students know how well a school is performing without testing?
"Testing is a diagnostic tool, necessary to correct problems early, before it's too late," the president said.
While Mr. Bush said he is "unalterably opposed" to a national test designed and delivered by the federal government, he took direct aim at what he called the "no-testing crowd" and those who claim rigorous testing favors white students.
"There's a group of folks that will say: 'You can't test because it's racist.' What's racist is not testing. What's racist, it seems like to me, is giving up on kids, just move them on through and hope we get it right," he said.
Mr. Bush, speaking at an elementary school where more than half of the 356 students are black, said a system that "shuffles children through" is a scourge that must be eliminated.
"Inner-city children it's so much easier to walk into a room and say, 'Oh, these kids aren't supposed to learn, let's move them through.' That's unacceptable to me, and I think it's beginning to be unacceptable to America."
Mr. Bush also defended his school-choice plan as a critical "consequence" for chronically failing schools. "At some point in time, there has to be a final moment" where parents have more options for their children.
The president's plan would connect federal funds to student performance in failing schools and withdraw federal money from schools that fail three years in a row, allowing students to use that money up to $1,500 to enroll elsewhere.
Last night, speaking at Moline Elementary School in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mr. Bush broadly outlined his administration's agenda from defense policy to tax cuts and education reform and appealed for popular support.
"This is a plan that's going to require the people to speak up," the president said.
George Archibald contributed to this report in Washington.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide