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Plenty Left Behind

Bush is right: Schools' mission not accomplished
On Sept. 11, 2001, when President Bush learned that the nation was under attack by terrorists flying hijacked airliners, he was visiting a class of second-graders at Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla. The president and students were reading aloud from a book entitled The Pet Goat.

As Thursday's second anniversary of the terrorist attacks approached, Bush, eager to divert attention from conflict abroad, again indulged his enthusiasm for meeting with schoolchildren, visiting elementary schools in Nashville, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla.

During his visits, Bush defended the Leave No Child Behind Act he sought at the start of his presidency. Some school districts have made progress since passage of the act. But the news from the education front, like reports from Iraq, tends to be negative.

Some states and districts resent the requirement that they uniformly assess their students' knowledge and skills. The resentment stems in part from the large cost (only partially allayed by federal tax dollars), and in part because many officials and educators do not want the public to learn how little students know.

It is a national disgrace that the president of the United States, in the middle of a global war on terrorism, feels he must take time out to urge public schools to give special help to students who need it. Most teachers already know to do that. Administrators who need to be told are unqualified for the job.

In Texas, the news is especially dispiriting. In his re-election campaign last fall, Gov. Rick Perry vowed to do nothing to reform the state's unworkable school finance system. The system is nicknamed Robin Hood, because it directs money from wealthy districts to the poorest. However, the system should have been named after Rube Goldberg, because it prevents both rich and poor districts from providing children with a decent education.

To prove his bona fides on education, Perry pointed to a scholarship program he supports. Students who excel in college preparatory courses are named Texas Scholars and are eligible for state grants of as much as $1,200 per semester for college tuition. This fall, however, more than 7,000 Texas Scholars entering college were denied grants when the money ran out. Perry also suspended a program to provide each public school with high-speed Internet access, and stood by while the Legislature cut state support for teacher training and other education programs.

The Houston Independent School District, often hailed as a model for other urban districts, suffered repeated scandals over its faulty dropout numbers and achievement scores.

President Bush, who recently admitted that the war in Iraq would be long, bloody and expensive, should acknowledge that the nation is still leaving as many as half its children behind. Either they drop out, or receive a high school diploma without mastering the skills they need for success in the workplace.

— Editorial
Left Behind
Houston Chronicle


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