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Bush Digs in His Heels on Failing Education Policies

President seals his legacy of misplaced priorities, unfunded education programs

WASHINGTON - January 28, 2008 -

President George W. Bush has refused to make quality public schools a priority during his administration, and his final State of the Union tonight confirmed that his legacy on education issues will be one of failed teach-to-the-test experiments, voucher schemes, and unfunded services for children and public education.

“You can’t ‘sprint to the finish’ while digging in your heels,” said NEA President Reg Weaver. “The president has stubbornly refused to work with Congress every step of the way on reforming No Child Left Behind, providing health care to children and funding public education. If the president wants to make it to the finish line, he has to start listening to the will of Congress, parents and educators.

The president held up No Child Left Behind as a domestic achievement, while failing to mention recent blows to the law from the courts and Congress. This month, on the eve of NCLB’s sixth anniversary, a federal appeals court ruled that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is violating the Spending Clause of the Constitution by requiring states and school districts to spend their own funds to comply with the law.

Bush has left children behind every year, underfunding every aspect of NCLB. Six years ago, Bush promised to fully fund the law. But the president has consistently refused to make good on his promises. Due to Bush’s recent veto of the FY 2008 education appropriations bill, there will be a $14.8 billion gap in funding for NCLB programs. That is on top of the previous cumulative gap of $56.1 billion.

NCLB simply isn’t working as well as the president and education secretary would have you believe. Fourth graders made the biggest gains in math and reading scores in years prior to the law, and the math scores of eighth graders were higher pre-NCLB. What’s worse, the obsessive focus on testing has led to a narrowing of school curricula. About 44 percent of school districts report cutting time spent on social studies, art, music, science, physical education, and even lunch or recess, in order to teach to the test.

And new research by a University of Maryland professor finds that NCLB’s focus on high-stakes testing has “actually undermined the quality of teaching in reading and math.” The research further found, “There were declines in teaching higher-order thinking, and in the amount of time spent on complex assignments.”

Instead of addressing these substantive flaws, and focusing on proven school improvement strategies, the president has stubbornly promised to take things from bad to worse. Tonight he introduced a rehashed version of the same school voucher scheme he has pushed in previous annual addresses. This time the administration is calling it “Pell Grants for Kids,” (rather than “Opportunity Scholarships” or school vouchers) after the popular higher education grant program for the neediest students

“The president knows that ‘voucher’ is a politically tainted word for parents who want quality public schools, not more government bureaucracy,” Weaver said. “This name game is a last-ditch effort to push a program that will leave public school students behind. Instead, we need the federal government to provide resources for school priorities, like reducing class sizes and investing in high-quality pre-K. We know through research and experience what works. It’s just a question of whether, in the final hours of his administration, the president will finally make quality public schools a priority.” 

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

Contact: Will Potter  (202) 822-7823