WASHINGTON – President Bush congratulated five states who have developed plans to improve educational quality in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law one year ago.
The states will now have to implement its plans to annually test students and to award controls to families with children in poorly performing schools.
"A year ago we signed a piece of legislation that I'm absolutely confident is going to change our schools for the better," Bush told principals and administrators gathered in the East Room of the White House. "We can say that the work of reform has well begun. And that's a true statement. The work will be complete, however, when every school — every public school in America is a place of high expectations and a place of achievement. That is our national goal."
The Education Department approved plans from Massachusetts, New York, Indiana, Colorado and Ohio.
"One size doesn't fit all when to comes to public education. What counts are results, what counts is the fact the schools will be teaching the basics and children learn how to read and compute. These states recognize that," Bush said.
Under the law, states must devise and offer tests in reading and mathematics for every child each year in grades three through eight, beginning in fall 2005. Under current law, states are required to test students three times throughout their K-12 education in reading and math.
Schools with stagnant scores get more money, but students must be offered the option of transferring to better-performing public schools. After three years, a school district must offer tutoring at its expense. After four years, it must begin paying transportation costs of students who opt to attend other schools.
"Accountability for results is no longer just a hope of parents. Accountability for results is now the law of the land," Bush said.
By the end of the month, states must give the federal Education Department their plans for holding schools accountable for making progress each year, reporting performance and helping their students achieve proficiency in the tested subjects. Several states submitted their plans early.
If school districts don't perform well enough they could lose federal funds.
Bush defended the strict rules on testing against those who say it distracts from teaching, answering those who criticize that schools are "teaching the test."
"Well, if a child can pass the reading test, the child has learned to read, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
The president also congratulated eight principals in the audience from around the nation whom he said helped their schools excel.
"If you follow schools and if you follow public education, you know that you can find excellence in schools where you've got a good principal. Obviously, it requires good teachers, but if you've got a good principal — an innovative, smart, capable person who is motivated and dedicated and who believes every child can learn — you'll find excellence in that particular school," he said.
The president used the pulpit to once again stress his education credentials and demonstrate his commitment to education, a commitment that has been criticized by Democrats, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who co-authored the bill, who complained that the president has not put enough money to the program and has therefore abandoned the thrust of his reforms.
"America's public schools cannot overcome the enormous obstacles they face on the cheap," said a letter to the president being written by Kennedy on behalf of Democrats. "If we fail to act on our responsibilities now, we will be setting up our children to fail in the future."
Kennedy refused to attend the White House event and several other senators did not show up. The only senator in attendance was Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who authored the bill with Kennedy.
Bush said Wednesday that over the last two years the increase in federal spending in education has been 49 percent, and that he will propose $387 million for testing that was doled out in the current bill.