The presidential election this November offers voters a choice between real, tangible, meaningful reform and repackaged, failed policies of the last eight years. Real progress in education will take much more than the tired liberal spending that is the hallmark of the policy advocated by Vice President Al Gore '69. Indeed, Gore is so bound to money from the special interest teachers' unions and National Education Association representatives that one leading education commentator this week concluded that while Gore mouths reformist education ideas, there's nothing in his record to indicate that he would stand up to education unions and take some of the bold steps that strongly encourage change.
Our country cannot afford to continue down the failed path of the past. From 1960 to 1995 average per-pupil spending in U.S. public schools rose 212 percent in real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) dollars. Yet for all of this additional spending, most agree that the quality of public education is growing ever worse. Test scores and national ranking against other countries' students have declined, and in a society that is very much divided in those who can read and those who cannot, 77 percent of children in urban high-poverty schools are reading "below basic" on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Though Gore has decided to mimic Republican education reform proposals--asking to expand the number of charter schools and increase standards for teachers and schools--close examination reveals that Texas Gov. George W. Bush offers the only comprehensive reform agenda centered around high standards, specific accountability and properly-aligned local authority. In an effort to appease teachers unions and school administrators (as with so many of his "reforms") Gore's plan simply suggests, not requires, that schools test their students at least twice during the entirety of their school years. In contrast, the Bush education initiative requires that states test their students each year to ensure quality education at every grade level. Gore's weak-hearted proposal leaves a dangerous time gap between optional testing, allowing standards of learning to plummet dramatically with no means of catching the fall until at least four years later. Under the Bush plan, performance problems can be discerned and strengthened within the year, assuring an environment of success, not mediocrity.
Instead of allowing problems like illiteracy to fester and remain a life-long stumbling block to disadvantaged students, Bush will hold schools accountable to meet certain basic standards. As part of a comprehensive plan to "leave no child behind," his policy ensures that every child will learn to read by the third grade. In continuing his commitment to low-income families and disadvantaged minorities in inner city schools, Bush proposes testing done on a disaggregated basis, allowing for tallying scores on the basis of race and income. Under these grids we can be sure that the achievement gap is eliminated and that minority and disadvantaged students succeed.
Bush will work to ensure that low-income families have the same possibilities and opportunities for choosing their child's educational plan that rich families currently enjoy. Under the Bush plan, schools that do not improve upon poor performance will lose a significant portion of their federal funding. This money will be given in the form of a voucher to the parents of children in these failing schools. This offers low-income families the resources to choose a better education for their child.
Recent data indicates the unprecedented success of pilot voucher and school choice programs across the country. According to a study released in August by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance, test scores for low-income African-Americans given the opportunity to use vouchers for private schools showed "moderately large" gains and academic improvement. In a New York City program, low-income students showed tangible improvements after using vouchers to switch schools. Bush will also give public schools incentives to reach the required standard.
Unlike Gore, Bush has proven himself an effective educational reformer. Due to his leadership as governor, Texas ranks first in the nation in overall student improvement in testing. The number of low-income and minority students passing the state skills test increased by 87 percent during the Bush administration. For each of the last six years Texas students in all ethnic groups and across all grade levels have advanced in fundamental reading and math proficiency. In our education policy we must leave no child behind. American children deserve the very best we can offer.
Robert R. Porter '00-'02 is a government and philosophy concentrator in Adams House. Heather A. Woodruff '03 is an economics concentrator in Leverett House. Porter is the chair of Harvard Students for Bush and Woodruff is a member of the Harvard Republican Club executive board.
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