- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas President Bush yesterday told high school students not to worry about being called "nerds" for taking challenging classes as they return to school amid new reforms in student testing and teacher accountability.
"You hear students saying: 'Don't take the tough course, it'll make you a nerd,'" Mr. Bush told chuckling students at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School.
"You're missing out if that's the way you think," he added. "It is not in your self-interest that you think for such low standards."
With many elements of his education reform bill taking effect for the first time now that students are returning to school, Mr. Bush met with students to tout the measures and announce a new initiative to encourage high schoolers to take more challenging courses.
The State Scholars Initiative, modeled after a similar program in Texas, is aimed at cutting the number of high school graduates who are unprepared for college. Nearly half of all incoming college freshmen need remedial courses to strengthen basic skills such as reading.
"That's not right," the president said. "You don't want your higher education systems to be remedial education systems."
Arkansas has been chosen as the first of five states to receive funding to develop more rigorous courses and promote them with student incentives. The program is administered in part by the Business Roundtable, a national group of large employers interested in a more educated work force.
"They start interviewing children in the eighth grade about their ambitions and explaining reality," Mr. Bush said. "The minimum-wage job isn't going to get you to where you want to get."
He added: "And then what happens is that they start promoting advanced courses."
Mr. Bush met privately with three students from two schools yesterday about the need to be challenged in school.
"We heard that many times parents don't really understand the significance of challenging of having their students taking challenging courses," the president said afterward. "That many students and maybe you all are some of them here say, 'Well, I don't want to take a tough course. See, I can't pass that. Only the really smart people take the tough courses, and I don't happen to be all that smart, therefore I'm not going to take it.'"
He said such attitudes were overcome in Texas by convincing students of the merits of advanced placement courses.
"Thousands of students who didn't really realize the value of raising the bar have taken extra credits and have learned new languages," he said. "It is an effective way to spread the word to parent and student alike that if you're interested in your future, raise the bar, take the toughest courses."
The president also warned students that they will soon be subjected to federally mandated testing as part of the education bill he signed in January. He said the tests, along with measures to heighten teacher accountability, are necessary to improve public schools.
While yesterday's speech was billed as a back-to-school event for American students, Mr. Bush also talked of girls in Afghanistan returning to school now that U.S.-led forces have destroyed the Taliban regime, which forbade education for women.
During a discussion of American freedoms detested by Islamic radicals, Mr. Bush touched on religion in a way that would not be allowed by teachers in this public high school.
"See, we value the idea of people being able to worship freely an Almighty God," the president said. "That's what we value in America, and we're not going to change."

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