No Shortcuts to Excellence

President Bush sought to honor a campaign promise by making education one of his first "issues of the week" and releasing his "No Child Left Behind" proposal. Bush's plan includes traditionally Republican themes such as support for charter schools and consolidation of federal programs. A controversial voucher provision for children stuck in chronically "failing schools" was also included, but Bush quickly expressed willingness to drop it and initial Senate legislation did just that.

Vouchers might reappear on the Senate floor or in a House bill, but the centerpiece of Bush's plan is its call for school accountability through increased standardized testing—which contrasts sharply with the recent moves in higher education away from standardized testing in the form of the SAT.

Clearer standards and public accountability have been the driving force behind politically driven school reform since the early 1980s. Most American children take either a commercially produced basic skills test or a state-produced curriculum examination every two or three grades. But the president's plan raises the ante significantly, requiring states receiving federal support (all of them) to test children every year between grades three and eight. In addition, the Department of Education would administer its own tests to samples of 4th and 8th graders every year to confirm the legitimacy of the results reported by individual states.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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