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Bush Takes His Education Plan on the Road
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President George W. Bush visited Connecticut this week to tout the priorities set forth in his proposed education budget. Bush answered critics who say his plan doesn't allocate enough funds for education and that his emphasis on national testing is unfair, even racist. Noticeably absent from his speech was any mention of school vouchers. Included: The response to the president's speech.


Reporter's Notebook

Before the president gave his speech at Central Connecticut State University, he was presented with an honorary doctorate degree of laws. Bush joked that the degree wouldn't make him a lawyer.

Then Bush warmed up the crowd -- a mostly Republican crowd that didn't need warming up in the first place -- with humor and praise. "I love your governor," Bush proclaimed, referring to Republican Governor John Rowland. He also spoke kindly of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who did not attend the event. The senator has put the close presidential election aside to focus on an education plan for the nation, Bush said.

Congressman James Maloney (D-Conn.), a moderate Democrat, was among the delegation that arrived at the university with the president. Bush said that he and Maloney both love their country but have agreed to disagree. Some political insiders speculate that another purpose of the president's Connecticut visit was to gain Maloney's favor to help pass his proposed education budget.

President George W. Bush took his education plan on the road this week. On Wednesday, he visited B. W. Tinker Elementary School in Waterbury, Connecticut. The president praised the administration at Tinker, an urban school, for significantly improving the students' standardized test scores over the past eight years.

Later, at a stop at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain, Bush touted his proposed education budget in a 40-minute speech before a crowd of approximately 2,000. Bush's passionate speech emphasized key components of his education reform package.

"I want to tell you something about the budget," Bush said. "It's a budget that sets priorities." Throughout his speech, Bush stressed his plan's three priorities:

  • Schools must set high standards and high expectations.
  • Congress must trust local discretion.
  • Schools must measure achievement, and Congress needs to hold them accountable.
The president dismissed concerns that testing is racist and unfair. "It's racist not to test," he said. "It's racist not to measure. Because guess who gets shuffled through the system -- children whose parents don't speak English as a first language."

Bush focused on a handful of education programs that are included in his education package. Those programs include character education, faith- and community-based after-school programs, and early reading initiatives. Standing ovations and applause interrupted his speech several times.

Conspicuously absent from his speech was any mention of school vouchers. Following the president's speech, Congresswoman Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), who had urged Bush to visit the university and accompanied him to the state on Air Force 1, said she thought it was significant that Bush did not promote school vouchers in his remarks. "I believe it is a sign of his willingness to compromise," Johnson said.

Johnson said the Bush budget, along with legislative approval of full funding for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), would make a significant difference in the nation's schools.

Congress has failed to fulfill its promise to pay 40 percent of state special education costs. Read more in the Education World article Will the Government Fund Its Commitment to Special Ed?
"I am a strong, adamant advocate of full-funding of IDEA," Johnson told Education World. "It would be, in a sense, the biggest bang we could do immediately. And so I am thrilled with the amendment the Senate got on. It will mean we will have to re-tinker with the budget in some areas. But if we can pass the reforms the president has proposed, and the full funding of IDEA, that will be the biggest step forward for public education in years."


SHADES OF PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SPEECHES

The president conceded that his proposed budget "creates some tension, because there's a lot of folks up there [in Congress] that would rather spend a lot more money than that."

Parts of Bush's speech were reminiscent of his presidential campaign speeches. "The role of the government is not to create wealth," Bush said to a round of applause. Critics who want to increase spending are also the same folks who want to increase the role and scope of the federal government, he said. "And I'm not yielding," Bush said firmly. With those words, the audience gave him his third standing ovation within 15 minutes.

Bush stressed that the nation needs to reduce the achievement gap. "It's not right," he said. "It's time to stop talking and time to start doing." He cited the recent release of scores in The Nation's Report Card, conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) as proof of the nation's achievement gap and evidence that U.S. students lag behind other nations'.


GIVE TEACHERS MORE CREDIT

Dr. Ellen Whitford, dean of education and professional studies at CCSU, thought the president didn't give teachers enough credit for what they are accomplishing in the classroom.

"I'd like to hear more [from the president] about supporting teachers, more recognition of the work they do," Whitford told Education World.

"A lot of the issues he would like to see happen in the classroom are already happening," Whitford said. "I don't think teachers are not teaching character education. I don't think a teacher could go into a classroom and teach math, reading, and social studies without some meaningful projection of the type of values that the president is putting forth. It's part of the classroom structure and rules. I don't think you can teach value-free. I don't think it happens."

The emphasis on testing adds a lot of pressure to teachers, Whitford added. "Comparing when there isn't a level playing field isn't an honest comparison," she said. She also expressed concern about the elimination of some "good federal programs," such as technology programs for pre-service educators.

Few college students attended the speech. Richard L. Judd, president of the university, said the president's visit was planned by the White House event staff, and the university was the venue for the president to give his speech. The university was allocated 100 tickets; however, the speech was televised so students could watch the president give his speech.

Although Judd said he had received some nasty e-mails the last few days regarding the shutout of most students, he was pleased with the president's focus on education. "As an educator, I am enormously pleased he is putting so much emphasis [on education], particularly with elementary and secondary education first," Judd told Education World.

"I think higher education will reap some of the benefits in the long run," added Judd, "[The students] we are seeing coming into colleges and universities all across the country are students who are not really prepared to the degree they should be to do collegiate level work." Many students lack the basic communication and computation skills that are required, he said.

"It's the right time for America to have that kind of impact," Judd said. "And the president clearly understands in his own mind that if we don't keep up with the global issues in learning and teaching, that this country will fall behind. If we don't take care of our kids, we can forget about the rest of it. For that reason, I look forward to that [education] package."