Public schools form the backbone of our society. That’s why the education bill recently signed by President George W. Bush, which does much to raise educational standards, is a great triumph for America.
A walk through the details of the bill reveals its many virtues. The package calls for reading and math tests to be administered annually in grades 3 through 8, starting in the 2005-06 school year, and for science tests to be given annually to three grade levels. Schools that fail to improve scores for two consecutive years may be given additional federal funding, helping them bolster their teaching efforts. If, after this infusion of funds, a school continues to show no improvement in scores, low-income parents will have the option of busing their children to another school. They will also be granted access to tutoring services. Finally, schools that decline in performance for six consecutive years can be restaffed at the discretion of state and federal officials.
Bush’s bill is well designed. It provides ample time — more than three years — to ensure the test is well prepared and covers the right material. Moreover, the expectations this plan places on schools are hardly taxing. Bush’s program provides administrators at struggling schools a second chance after two under-performing years. Even better, the bill empowers parents, especially those who might otherwise be financially unable, to pull their children from underperforming schools. Indeed, shouldn’t schools that cannot improve their records in six years be subject to serious scrutiny?
Without a doubt, Bush’s education bill makes good sense. It is a well-reasoned, balanced and honest approach toward improving public schools across the country, and toward closing any gap between wealthy and less-fortunate schools. It ensures schools accomplish their mission as educators.
Of course, many complain that testing is a poor indicator of school quality. They argue successful teaching is largely creative and entails much more than, say, simply instructing good arithmetic. The latter part of such a claim is true to some extent. Regardless, if students are not meeting basic educational benchmarks and are not learning necessary skills, even the most creative teaching will be in vain.
It is clear that testing is a good idea, aimed at upholding standards for education. Given a well-written test, arguments against “teaching to the test” seem frivolous. As Bush has often said, teachers who teach to a test that covers essential reading, writing and mathematical skills are not shortchanging their students.
Still others object to the requirement established by the bill that schools issue annual “report cards” analyzing how their students compare to their peers at other local schools. One may wonder whether these same people read or refer to the magazine Consumer Reports? Surely if they care which is the best blender or the best dishwasher, then they would also be interesting in knowing which is the highest performing school. For even if some find “report card” rankings distasteful, wouldn’t they acknowledge inadequate schools are disgraceful?
Publishing testing results does parents an outstanding service. This bill emphatically states that America takes its school system seriously. It underscores the importance of good teaching and quality teachers.
Bush promised an education plan that would leave no child behind, and he delivered. And if the success of our schools is something we truly value, then his plan is a welcome sight.
William Edwards is a senior in Pierson College. His columns appear on alternate Mondays.