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Bush Endorses Testing Of 12th-Grade Students

Ohanian Comment: So will Congress roll over on this one too? Perhaps Senator Kennedy will not object to the concept but insist on the money up front.

EL DORADO, Ark., April 6 -- President Bush endorsed a proposal Tuesday that would require states to test 12th-grade students and called for the replacement of an 87-year-old vocational education program.

Bush's testing proposal, which needs congressional approval, would expand reading and math testing beyond the fourth- and eighth-graders who are tested in all states every other year.

"I think high schools need to have the bar raised," Bush said at a community college here in rural south Arkansas. "You need to know, your governor needs to know, the citizens need to know how you stack up relative to other places, if you expect to educate children for the jobs of the 21st century."

Bush also proposed taking money from the Pell Grant program and abolishing the Perkins vocational education program to put more than $1 billion annually into new programs to encourage technical studies.

The prospects for Bush's ideas are uncertain in Congress, where the consensus that passed his education changes two years ago has dissolved. State legislatures in more than a dozen states, including many governed by Republicans, have protested the law, the No Child Left Behind Act, because they say it imposes too many requirements on states without adequate federal funding. State officials have been angered that the student testing has caused many schools to be branded as failing, requiring costly remediation. The federal government, reacting to state complaints and requests for waivers, has eased some regulations.

The tests Bush proposed expanding yesterday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, are relatively uncontroversial because they do not determine schools' sanctions or funding. Several states already test high school seniors voluntarily, and last month a commission recommended mandatory tests.

Bush, elaborating on a proposal in his 2005 budget, said $1 billion taken from the Perkins program would create a new secondary and technical education program, or Sec Tech, which would require participating schools to offer four years of English, three years of math and science, and 31/2 years of social studies as part of their vocational curriculum.

In addition, Bush would limit the number of years in which people can receive Pell Grants for low-income students to eight years for a four-year degree and four years for a two-year degree; that $50 million, along with an equal amount of foundation contributions, would give 20,000 low-income students scholarships of as much as $5,000 to study math or science.

In his budget for 2005, Bush has proposed reducing funding for the Perkins program to $1 billion from $1.3 billion.

Bush, who is spending the rest of the week on his Texas ranch without scheduled public appearances, was in good spirits today as he talked with residents. Speaking in an overheated gym built in 1940 under the Work Projects Administration, he peppered his talk with folksy phrases such as "right quick." And, while thanking a man for his service in Iraq, Bush learned that the man is a lance corporal and offered him a promotion. "Colonel, now, as far as I'm concerned," the commander in chief replied.

After hearing residents' stories about vocational education, Bush produced gasps in the crowd of enthusiastic admirers when he addressed Sammie Briery, a gray-haired woman who works for the Camden Area Chamber of Commerce. "You and my mother go to the same hair-dye person," he quipped.

Briery retorted: "President Bush, I'm a natural blonde."

The president apologized, saying, "I couldn't help myself. Sorry." He then quickly brought the session to a close.

Bush may hear from his mother on the matter if she joins him at the ranch for Easter festivities. But Briery, at least, said after Tuesday's event that she was not offended in the least. "I'm proud of this hair," she said. "I worked hard for it."

— Dana Milbank
Washington Post





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