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Bush Program Is Leaving Country's Children Behind

It's back-to-school time again -- and students and parents in thousands of public schools are in for some big surprises.

Not all of them will be pleasant.

In addition to new seating charts and friends and teachers to meet, children in many schools will witness firsthand how hurtful the alleged No Child Left Behind Act is to education.

The Bush administration touts the reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a boon to education progress. In recent weeks, a flurry of Washington bureaucrats have made their way through Michigan in attempts to deflect criticism and "deflate the myths" surrounding the law. In a letter to one community newspaper, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige boasted that students may walk into the same school this fall, but they will enter a "new world" of wise investments and high expectations.

For many, it'll be a new world, all right. But not the one the Bush administration would like you to believe exists.

Consider the results from a statewide survey of hundreds of school districts conducted by the K-16 Coalition, a group of K-12 and higher education organizations in Michigan. Struggling to cope with funding cuts, the coalition found:

52 percent of districts surveyed expect larger class sizes.

50 percent expect to delay buying new textbooks.

30 percent plan to increase student fees for extracurricular activities.

83 percent have cut supply budgets.

21 percent will cut the number of school days.
Media reports describe schools that charge elementary students to play sports and others that ask parents to provide standard school supplies.

The Bush administration is quick to blame states. For failing to use all the money they've been granted. For requiring too much paperwork. For going beyond No Child Left Behind rules.

The Bush administration defensively labels legitimate questions about the law's efficacy as myths.

Here's the truth: No Child Left Behind hurts schools -- and our kids.

The fiscal year 2005 budget shortchanges America's students and schools by $9.4 billion. In Michigan, the shortfall is more than $237 million.

Title I funds -- money that pays for programs for our neediest children -- have actually been cut. Nearly 400 Michigan school districts expect to receive fewer Title 1 funds in the 2004-05 school year than they did in 2003-04, according to federal data.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues its push for standardized tests. Tests that do not measure real success, with results we cannot use, at a price we cannot afford, especially in tight budget times.

Sadly, the law completely fails to recognize what educators appreciate about students. Each child learns differently. In what is perhaps one of the most unreasonable provisions of the law, the federal government requires 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and English by 2014.

Though 100 percent is a worthy goal -- and educators work hard to ensure success for all students -- the reality is that not all students will achieve proficiency at the same time. For schools that do not reach the 100 percent mandate in 2014, the sanctions will be severe. Some schools could close; others will face state takeover or loss of funding.

Bush has proved unwilling to fix and fund the most hurtful aspects of No Child Left Behind. He came into office touting himself as a compassionate conservative who has been very conservative when it comes to compassion.

So, even as MEA members welcome students back to school, many are looking ahead to another important date this fall -- Election Day, Nov. 2 -- when they can elect politicians who support meaningful reforms that don't hurt kids.

LU BATTAGLIERI is president of the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.

— Lu Battaglieri
Detroit Free Press


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