President Bush is beginning his push to require high school seniors to take the math and reading tests now required of younger students under the No Child Left Behind law, the most ambitious item on the president’s slate of second-term education proposals.
Bush was outlining his proposals for high schools Wednesday at J.E.B Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va., a Washington suburb. The school, which has 1,380 students, was the lowest-performing school in Fairfax County, Va., in 1997, but met its academic goals under No Child Left Behind in the 2003-04 school year.
Bush’s speech was part of a White House campaign to highlight the president’s domestic agenda for the next four years. Bush has spent the past two weeks talking about curbing class-action lawsuits and medical malpractice awards and revamping Social Security and the tax code.
In education, Bush’s focus is on high schools and on expanding the No Child Left Behind law that is designed to raise achievement among poor and minority children and penalize schools that don’t make adequate yearly progress.
Under the law, states now are required to give fourth- and eighth-graders the National Assessment of Education Progress tests. To raise high school graduation rates, Bush has proposed giving states $250 million to require two more years of math and reading tests in high schools. It’s part of his campaign pledge to improve high school standards and enhance the value of high school diplomas.
Congressman envisions 'rough sledding'
Rep. George Miller of California, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, has said the idea of adding testing “is going to have rough sledding, not just on Capitol Hill but I think in communities all across the country.” Miller says schools are struggling to keep up with the financial burden of their existing federal requirements, let alone new ones.
Like Miller, many Democrats, who supported No Child Left Behind when Bush signed it into law three years ago, now criticize the administration for what they call lackluster spending and enforcement. Critics, including teachers’ unions, argue that the funding increases have not been enough to cover the costs of the new requirements, including the expense of creating tests and processing results.
Federal spending on programs covered under No Child Left Behind has increased 40 percent since Bush took office, from $17.38 billion to $24.35 billion. But spending went up only 1.7 percent this year, about the same rate of increase the entire Education Department received.
Focusing on high school is a good idea, Steve Nousen, a federal lobbyist for the National Education Association, a teachers’ union, said Tuesday. But he said expanding No Child Left Behind would take even more money.
“If you look at the graduation rates nationwide, there is great room for improvement,” Nousen said. “We have to do something to prepare these kids for college or to be lifelong learners in the world of work. The funding in the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade is not adequate. If we try to extend it (NCLB) into the high schools, obviously it’s going to take more money.”
Among other proposals Bush has announced for high schools:
- $200 million for the “Striving Readers” literacy program. Bush asked Congress for $100 million for this fiscal year and received $25 million for the initiative, which provides grants to schools to give extra help to middle and high school students who have fallen behind in reading.
- $12 million to expand the state scholars program nationally to better prepare more students for college or the workplace. Currently, only 13 states offer the program, which requires participating students to take a course load that includes four years of English, three years of math and science and 3½ years of social studies.
- $500 million for states and school districts to reward teachers whose students show improved achievement.
- $200 million for schools to use eighth-grade test data to develop performance plans for students entering high school.
- Redirect money allocated to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education program to what is called a Secondary and Technical program. The program, dubbed Sec Tech, requires that participating schools offer a more rigorous curriculum for technical education students and require states that receive Perkins funds to participate in the testing Bush is proposing for 12th-graders.