- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

President-elect George W. Bush called on education and business leaders yesterday to use their influence and management experience to help reshape education reforms at the state and local levels.
"I fully understand it's going to require a collaborative effort to make sure public education fulfills its promise for every single child," said Mr. Bush, who added that he called the education summit as an opportunity to listen rather than to speak.
"We can't provide people with convenient excuses for failure," he told the group, gathered yesterday morning at the Blair House in Washington.
Mr. Bush, who said during the campaign that education would be among his top priorities as president, reiterated that pledge, setting a firm tone for his administration's education policy, which will include testing and accountability with consequences for those schools that accept federal money but fail to improve.
He said he would call on Congress to pass a reform bill that requires states that receive federal money to test students.
"There has to be a moment of truth. There has to be a moment where we say, 'Enough is enough,' " Mr. Bush said.
"To the extent the federal government spends money, I believe the money ought to follow the child," said Mr. Bush, a reference to Title 1 funding that is given to states and school districts, rather than directly to the poor students it is designed to help.
"When we find children simply being shuffled through the school system without regard to whether they can read or write, we've got to hold somebody accountable, and it starts with making sure that accountability is aligned at the local level with responsibility," Mr. Bush told the group, which included Chicago school chief Paul Vallas and Eugene Hickok, Pennsylvania's secretary of education and head of the Education Leaders Council (ELC).
Among the business leaders who attended were Hugh Price, president and CEO of the Urban League; Joe Gorman, CEO of TRW; and Ed Rust, CEO of State Farm Insurance.
ELC member Lisa Graham Keegan, Arizona's superintendent of education, said she came away from the 90-minute meeting impressed with Mr. Bush's command of education issues. She called it a relief to see the incoming president lay down specifics of "letting no child be left behind," a mantra he repeated during his campaign.
Business leaders, she noted, came into the meeting "passionately engaged" and eager for a discussion.
"The backs came off the chairs," she said, describing the meeting's tone as hopeful.
In a decade in Arizona, "the only time we ever made meaningful movement forward [on education reform] is with the direct push from the business community," Mrs. Keegan said after the meeting.
The end results of better education and reform are immediate for business leaders, she added.
"They are the single largest payer for remediation in this country," she said. "This is real for them."
Mr. Bush listened as Mr. Vallas, CEO of the once-troubled Chicago school system, outlined his district's successful reforms, including the end of social promotion of underperforming students. Changes in the school system have spurred an atmosphere of excellence driven by competition, Mr. Vallas said.
"We're strong advocates of testing, of posting the tests for every school, but also of disaggregating the data by groups, because a lot of times it's important to see how individual groups are doing so that you can take the appropriate steps to evaluate the data," Mr. Vallas said. "We also believe that the money also should follow the children."
In Chicago, one of the nation's largest urban school districts, Mr. Vallas noted that there has been strong support for parochial and private institutions. He touted the growth of charter schools and the option of increased mobility that allows Chicago students who are in low-performing schools to transfer to other schools within the district.

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