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GIVE NEW EDUCATION BILL A CHANCE



Published: Tue, April 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Dallas Morning News: So much for bipartisanship. It seems like only yesterday that Senate Democrats -- chief among them, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts -- were praising President Bush for his leadership in building political support for the president's education reform bill. Designed to ensure that all children receive a quality education, the No Child Left Behind Act forces accountability by requiring mandatory annual testing from the third through eighth grades.

Signed in January, the law has moved to the implementation stage -- and now things are getting interesting. No sooner had Education Secretary Rod Paige set out to meet with parents, teachers and administrators on a tour of over two dozen U.S. cities than a number of educational lobbies began to complain that they had been left out of the process of shaping the law's regulations. They include the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. Its representatives say that the administration welcomed to the process only those who agreed with it.

Complaints

That is not true. The nation's second-largest teachers' union -- the American Federation of Teachers -- often disagrees with Bush's education policies, including some aspects of the administration's emphasis on testing. Yet that union could not be happier with the plan Bush and Congress signed off on, the regulations, or the degree to which its concerns were addressed. Given that, one has to consider the National Education Association's complaints little more than sour grapes by an organization that Paige considers "particularly hostile" to the administration.

Of more consequence are the concerns expressed in a letter to Paige by six Democratic senators, including Kennedy. They say that the administration -- in the new regulations -- actually weakens accountability by tolerating a "patchwork of state and local assessments" rather than what the Democrats would prefer: a single state test.

That overstates the matter. The implementation has just begun. And while the administration has expressed reluctance to trample on local testing where it exists, it is most likely that, in the end, Paige and the president will go along with the idea of a single state test for one simple reason: A variety of tests would be impossible to manage.

The details will be worked out in time. The important thing is that new education law does what it was intended to do: hold schools and educators accountable for student performance, while giving them the tools to track the success of their efforts to enhance it.




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