- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on President George W. Bushs plan to inject real accountability into federal education spending. In doing so, well have an opportunity to shift a meaningful degree of authority back to parents and communities for the first time since Washington got involved with education policy a generation ago.
The centerpiece of Mr. Bushs plan is a provision that asks states that accept federal education dollars to begin annual testing of public school students in grades three through eight in reading and math. The vote on testing is a test for Congress itself a test of leadership, and members commitment to meaningful education reform.
Every member of Congress talks about the need to improve education for our children. Now its time to put some reform where our mouths have been.
As Education Secretary Rod Paige noted recently, "H.R. 1 [the House version of President Bushs education blueprint] reflects each of the four pillars of President Bushs education reform plan accountability and testing, flexibility and local control, research-based reform, and expanded parental options."
Theres a reason the Bush administration puts "accountability and testing" at the top of the list. Put simply: Its the heart of the presidents plan. If you dont test, you cant measure. If you cant measure, you cant be sure students are learning.
In the hands of caring parents, information is a powerful tool for education reform. Why ask states to evaluate schools and students annually? Because parents deserve to know how their childs school stacks up against others. Why have report cards for states and school districts? Because parents deserve to know whether their children are being taught by qualified teachers, and whether their childs school is falling below expectations.
We can give parents the ability to transfer their children out of failing schools and we must, through private school choice and other means but even that power is greatly diminished if parents dont know which schools are failing and which are succeeding. Testing produces data and in the hands of concerned, involved parents, data equals power.
Washington has increased education spending steadily since 1965, but weve never once asked the states using those dollars to be accountable for results. As a result of policymakers skittishness about accountability, billions of taxpayer dollars have been squandered and a generation of opportunity has been lost.
Today its virtually impossible to know whether federal education dollars are getting the results to which our children are entitled. And as far as the federal education establishment is concerned, thats just fine.
While giving lip service to the importance of parental involvement the real cornerstone of education the education bureaucracy has crushed efforts to empower parents with the ability to know whether their children are actually learning. The latest incarnation of this effort is an amendment to be considered today that would strip the presidents bill of its accountability provisions.
Washingtons resistance to accountability has been to the detriment of both students and taxpayers. Since 1965, Washington has spent nearly $130 billion on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)s Title I program in a well-intentioned, but fruitless effort to aid disadvantaged students. More than $80 billion of that sum has been spent in the last 10 years, more than half of them under a GOP-led Congress. Yet the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers hasnt budged.
For decades, policymakers of all political parties have given their tacit endorsement to the education establishments tolerance of mediocrity. By increasing spending without demanding results, Congress has systematically raised and dashed the hopes of a generation of students. Even after a decade of uninterrupted prosperity in America, achievement gaps between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers remain wide.
President Bush has challenged us to put an end to this dismal chapter and begin demanding results for students. When Congress votes in the days ahead on the education bill, Republicans, Democrats, and independents should all feel compelled to answer his call. Its time we began expecting more of our education system and its time for us to begin meeting the expectations parents, teachers and students across America have for us.

Rep. John Boehner, Ohio Republican, is chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.


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