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Topic: Education

A Lesson Plan for the Nation

June 1, 2001
JC Bowman



HEARTLAND INSTITUTE


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A Lesson Plan for the Nation

Education: May/June 2001
Author: J.C. Bowman
Published by: The Heartland Institute
Published in: Intellectual Ammunition
Publication date: May 2001

The Bush education blueprint is an excellent framework and has moved forward quickly with bipartisan support. Bush has demonstrated he has been listening to both sides of the aisle in meeting shared goals for education reform.

In making this the first priority of his administration, Bush is not merely in step with most Americans. He may, in fact, have ended the domination of this issue by Democrats and their teacher union allies for many years.

Most of the Bush proposal will certainly pass. The focus on increasing student achievement, enhancing flexibility, and improving school safety will gain overwhelming support. Helping children with special needs, recruiting effective teachers, and improving education research are also likely to attract bipartisan agreement.

Closing the achievement gap between our country's best and worst students, while being able to maintain high standards and improving overall student achievement, becomes the focus of reform efforts. A seven-year study of reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that the best students in several states seem to be improving, but the worst are losing ground.

Under the Bush reform plan, schools, school districts, and states will have greater freedom in administering federal education dollars. Research-based reading programs in the early elementary grades and for low-income preschoolers, as well as strengthening math and science education, are important parts of the Bush framework. These measures, too, will be popular.

And few will complain about the Bush plans for increasing spending. His 2001 budget calls for an 8 percent increase, or $1.6 billion, in spending on elementary and secondary education.


Problems Ahead

Critics of the Bush plan have been quick to condemn provisions that allow the parents of disadvantaged students in failing schools the option of using federal funds to find adequate public or private schools for their children.

Underlying the Bush proposal is a firm belief that the public education monopoly, when confronted by market forces, will be forced to improve. Schools, districts, and states that narrow the achievement gap and improve overall student achievement will be rewarded. States that fail to make progress may lose a portion of their administrative funds. This threatened loss of money--along with voucher provisions--is the most controversial, though most potent, element of the plan.

By introducing market forces, the President's initiative brings unprecedented education reform to the federal level. Is it enough? No, but it is a good start.

Many conservatives are naturally apprehensive about the testing aspect of the Bush plan. The dangers are real and we should be concerned. The plan requires states to test all students annually in reading and math from third grade to eighth grade to determine if they are making progress and to guarantee wise investment of federal dollars into the classroom.

The state will choose the test that best matches its standards and curriculum. The students' race, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, and English language proficiency will be evaluated on the results of these tests.

The other side of the coin is that we need more testing, particularly in reading and math. But we need it to occur earlier. We also have to limit student exclusions from the test, so all states are equally scrutinized. Education Secretary Dr. Rod Paige, while superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, had students tested with the Stanford 9 in grades 1 through 11. Doing so allowed for early identification of students who are behind grade level. It also ensured a higher level of competency for graduates of schools and school districts.

The results of state tests can be corroborated by the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress, which would sample students in fourth and eighth grade every year, in every state, to assess achievements in reading and mathematics. The NEAP is a good tool if it is not used as a high-stakes test, and if it is administered by an independent entity. It should serve only as a snapshot of educational progress.

Paige's colleague in Houston, Don McAdams, wrote in Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools . . . and Winning, "reform is seldom about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Rather, it is mostly about power, status, and money."

The Bush education proposal puts reform where it belongs, in stark contrast to the previous administration. "No child left behind" has to be more than a slogan; it has to become a vision made into reality.


J.C. Bowman, a former school teacher, is director of education policy for the Tennessee Institute for Public Policy.


For more information ...

No Child Left Behind. Examine the President's proposal for yourself. (White House document, January 2001.)

Request PolicyBot documents #2183202 (16pp.) and #2183203 (15pp.)

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