- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. President Bush yesterday said he is "suspicious" of schools that are afraid of accountability because that fear means "something must be going wrong."
Touring a Detroit suburban school where 60 percent of the students come from Arabic-speaking families, the president said his "No Child Left Behind" education plan passed in January will hold schools responsible for the education of America's children.
"This is a school that is not afraid to measure, a school that says, 'We want to know,'" Mr. Bush told teachers at Vandenberg Elementary.
"And I think that's not only healthy, I think it's great for the children. If the goal for America is 'no child left behind,' let's make sure we view each child as an individual test him or her as to whether or not she can read, write, add or subtract, and correct his or her problems early, before it's too late.
During a quick jaunt to Michigan that resembled a campaign stop, with a throng of ethnically diverse children screaming and waving tiny American flags as the president mugged for the cameras, Mr. Bush sought to keep his education plan center stage.
White House advance staff picked the school for its fact-friendly numbers: 55 percent of those who attend are black, 67 percent are receiving free or reduced-price lunches and 30 to 50 new students each year don't speak English.
More important, the school is a model for the Bush plan: high achievement bolstered by stern accountability. In 1989, just 29 percent of the students performed satisfactorily on the Michigan Achievement Test. Last year, however, that number had climbed to 93 percent.
"Vandenberg Elementary is a high-performing school," said Education Secretary Rod Paige, who just began a 25-city tour of the country to encourage schools to take advantage of the new federal law.
Mr. Paige pointed out that the year-round school is attended by low socio-economic-status children, has a major focus on literacy and reading instruction, and is run by a principal "who is very accountability-oriented, has done a lot with respect to teacher development and bringing teachers along."
"It's the kind of example that we want to see around the country," Mr. Paige said.
While Mr. Bush offered nothing new on education, Mr. Paige said his support is crucial because schools must work quickly both to be ready for the fall implementation of the law and to change themselves.
Aside from the numbers, the school also offered Mr. Bush a chance to frolic with Arab youngsters just a day before his fifth meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Vandenberg Elementary features classrooms where fixtures such as the clock (saait hayit) and loudspeaker (semma) are labeled in English with Arabic subtitles.
In a pre-speech stop at a classroom, Mr. Bush met Mariam Karana, an Arabic-speaking 4th grader who left Iraq two months ago. She writes her lessons about democratic values in Arabic, and a team of four translators helps her reproduce the work in English.
In his speech, Mr. Bush, who has repeatedly declared that Iraq would be "better off" without its leader, Saddam Hussein, said, "We've got to make sure every child gets educated, no matter where they're from or their background."
The president also urged parents to teach their children good manners and respect before they go to school.
"Parents have a responsibility in the public education system of America. They have a responsibility to make sure your child comes to school with the understanding that they're going to be polite when they get in the classroom, with the understanding that they'll treat their teacher with respect, with the understanding there are certain manners that are important," he said.
Mr. Bush also gave parents a simple prescription to ensure they are helping in their child's education: "It would be helpful if you insisted that your child read more than they watch TV."
"That's easier said than done. I understand that," he said.


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