- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

President Bush toured a Northeast D.C. elementary school yesterday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, promoting his education reform agenda while mingling with fourth-graders.
"Accountability is so important testing each child to make sure they are learning is the cornerstone of reform," Mr. Bush told an audience of parents and teachers at Merritt Elementary School.
Mr. Bush said he chose to visit Merritt during the first week of his presidency to celebrate the school as a shining example of the success of school accountability and to get "out of the White House."
Joining the president in the school tour were first lady Laura Bush and Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican. Also on hand were Reps. George Miller, California Democrat, and John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
"I am here to applaud the leadership, the teachers and a school in the District that has a vision of leadership and accountability," Mr. Bush said. "Some say that testing restricts curriculum. This school proves that is not the case. I am here to tout [the school's] excellence."
Mr. Bush also praised Merritt Principal Nancy Shannon for the school's back-to-basics curriculum and for "setting high standards and refusing to accept when [students] don't meet them."
As Terry Irving's fourth-grade class practiced grammar yesterday, a curious president circulated around the room.
"What are you working on?" Mr. Bush asked David White, 9, as he wrote in his practice book.
"Pronouns," the boy answered without looking up.
"Your handwriting is very neat," Mr. Bush said.
"Thank you," David said.
The president later reminisced how his twin daughters had complained about tests but were appeased after he explained how they were used to gauge their learning.
Under Mr. Bush's education plan, children would be tested every year in math and reading from the third through the eighth grades. States, districts and schools that improve achievement would be rewarded, while those that fail would see their federal funds diminish.
The Bush plan also would allow poor students in failing schools to apply the federal and state aid their schools receive averaging about $1,500 a year to help low-income parents pay for private tuition, a tutor or after-school program.
Mr. Bush's plan includes provisions for increasing parental choice via charter schools and voucher programs.
The president and the first lady also pledged yesterday to seek more ways to encourage more students to become teachers.
Mr. Miller said he believes Mr. Bush's voucher proposal would not pass muster in Congress, where many Democrats argue it will siphon money away from the schools that need it most.
"I told him my feelings about this, that 'you're wasting your energy. It's a diversion,' " Mr. Miller told Reuters. "I don't think you can pass the bill with vouchers."
He added: "I don't think he wants the good parts he's proposing to fail because of vouchers."
Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Miller are the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House committees that oversee education policy. Those panels are headed by Mr. Jeffords and Mr. Boehner.
Meanwhile, in the classrooms, it wasn't education paradigms the students buzzed over as they sat and quietly fidgeted.
"Oh my … it's him," third-graders whispered in Tawanjia Johnson's class, spying Mr. Bush.
As the president strolled in, some children smiled up at him while others shyly avoided looking at him directly. Mr. Bush shook hands, spoke gently to some students about their work and congratulated teachers on doing a fine job.
One student, Mario Jones, 13, was chosen by his teacher to hold up a welcome banner for the president and also received a handshake.
"I am good at school, so the teacher picked me," he said. "It's really exciting. I got to meet the president."
That excitement was shared around the school, Mr. Irving said.
"The students are so excited they are about to lose their lunch," he said. "But the short notice didn't give them much time to get worked up."


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