Education leaders react to Bush’s proposals

Edward J. McElroy, president, American Federation of Teachers:

“Two months and 16 days since his policies took a self-described ‘thumpin’,’ President Bush continues to press the politics of division. In his State of the Union Address, President Bush mostly spoke in broad terms about the need to support our students, teachers, and schools. However, with his proposed education initiative that will include two voucher schemes as part of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, President Bush has clearly decided to invite partisan bickering rather than bipartisan progress. Every minute spent debating a voucher proposal means less time for making needed changes to a law that has been long on promise and short on progress. That does nothing to help our children, our teachers, or our schools.

“What President Bush should be saying is that he will support research-backed solutions for struggling schools and disadvantaged students, and that additional funding will be proposed in support of real programs, not as a salve to avoid addressing the fundamental problems in the law. & The State of the Union is an opportunity for the president to set a national agenda that focuses on the needs of the people of the country and that puts their interests above partisan politics. President Bush missed that opportunity.”

Reg Weaver, president, National Education Association:

“Educators have experienced NCLB firsthand for the past five years and welcome the president’s acknowledgment that it’s time for increased flexibility and funding. We need to make sure struggling schools have the resources they need to improve. And we need to make sure the law is flexible enough to take a school’s improvement into consideration before leveling heavy-handed sanctions.

“No children should be ‘stuck in failing schools,’ and access to a high-quality public school should be the basic right of every child. The success of all public schools should be the priority. So let’s not take one step forward and three steps back. NCLB reform shouldn’t be muddied by voucher proposals that have repeatedly failed, or floundered, in Congress. Whether they’re called ‘opportunity scholarships’ or ‘promise scholarships’ or any other name, a voucher is a voucher. School vouchers divert scarce dollars from underfunded public schools and move us farther from achieving a great public school for every child.”

Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education:

“The president’s call to improve student achievement by increasing funding for No Child Left Behind is a promising step toward supporting America’s struggling students. However, we urge the president and Congress to strengthen the law to help all struggling students, including the six million in secondary schools who are at risk of dropping out. Unless reauthorization focuses on these students as well, the progress No Child Left Behind has shown in the early grades will be squandered as children move to higher grades. The president and Congress have the opportunity this year to ensure that all students, throughout their years in school, receive the support they need to earn a diploma and succeed as educated American citizens.”

Don Knezek, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education: “We seem to be addressing things like world-class educational competitiveness [and] math and science priorities, while ignoring the role that digital technologies play now in those disciplinesand also the role they play in students’ ability to learn in the modern digital landscape. & As the world and the learning environment become increasingly digital, ensuring consistent skills among our students in those areas is absolutely important.”

Keith Krueger, CEO, Consortium for School Networking:

“We were pleased to see that the president emphasized the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and competitiveness in his State of the Union address. The Consortium for School Networking fervently believes that educational technology tools and skills are inextricably linked to the goals of ensuring that all students achieve academically and are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st-century workforce.

“We look forward to working with the administration and Congress during the NCLB reauthorization process, as well as through the annual appropriations processes, to maintain within the new law an adequately funded, distinct educational technology program focused on powerful teaching and learning through technology. Without a continued commitment to educational technology at the federal level, we fear that the tie that binds together so many of the law’s goalsimproved student achievement, highly qualified teachers, the application of data to learning, and parental involvementwould be severed. Moreover, the absence of federal educational technology investment would greatly disadvantage our students and our nation in the global marketplace.”

Statement from the American Association of School Administrators:

“We are disappointed in President Bush’s plans for education, which he mentioned in his State of the Union message. The president reiterated his plans to ‘stay the course’ with his badly flawed program created by the No Child Left Behind legislation. He claims the program has been successful, when teachers, parents, and children know that its main success has been in diverting attention and energy away from real learning and a comprehensive curriculum. While the president acknowledged that changes needed to be made to the law and flexibility would be required, his overall approach failed to consider the destructive elements of his policy and how they might be addressed differently in the future.

“The president holds fast to the idea that ‘accountability’ must be pursued by a coercive process of federal oversight built upon a few rewards and a great deal of punishment, and his unbending belief that student achievement is the equivalent of a single test given to every child every year. It should be noted that other countries that are economic competitors have found ways of shaping accountability to be a process of continuous improvement carried out in a collaborative manner.

“The president, like most Americans, is concerned with our ability to stay internationally competitive. However, his unbending support of a law that narrows and minimizes the educational experience undercuts the very creativity and innovation necessary to be competitive in the international environment.

“The president’s ideas for privatizing education under the cloak of parental choice has actually weakened the very skills and children his program purports to help by siphoning off higher-achieving children and resources to private and more privileged schools. His proposal to create two new voucher programs will not ensure increased student achievement; it will simply divert federal tax dollars from public schools to private schools that are not held to the same standards the president espouses.

“During the five years NCLB has been in place, several of its underlying assumptions have inhibited students’ progress. For example, the law has failed to take into account the individual learning needs of students in special education and students with limited English proficiency. Under NCLB, students are judged on a single test score, rather than multiple measures that more accurately reflect students’ individual growth and learning during the school year. In addition, the law’s focus on reading and math test results has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, which limits schools’ ability to offer children the broad education they need to succeed in life. “There is a better way to proceed to close the achievement gap and increase student achievement. We support a fundamental transformation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to restore the law’s original intent to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children. We ask the Congress to join us in an effort to transform the current version of ESEA. Specifically, we ask that the Congress enact and the president support: (1) A law and regulations based on trust and an assumption that teachers and principals are trying their best to improve the achievement of all students, including low-income students; (2) Continued improvement of how student achievement is measured and data [are] used to assess group scores and individual progress; (3) Selecting a goal for progress in student achievement that is attainable; (4) Focusing the federal government’s role in education on providing support and developing capacity for improvement, rather than emphasizing sanctions; and (5) Engaging parents of low-income students as regular participants and partners in their children’s achievement.”

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