WASHINGTON – President Bush's plan to expand standardized testing in high schools is facing a fight from some of the same leaders in Congress who pushed through his first-term school agenda.
Bush wants Congress to require yearly reading and math tests in grades nine through 11, further extending a greater federal role in education. The No Child Left Behind (search) law Bush championed requires tests yearly in grades three to eight, and once during high school.
Congressional education leaders are wary, if not opposed, to the way Bush wants to change high school, as outlined in his new budget proposal. He wants to spend $1.2 billion on high school "interventions," for example, but erase about as much from vocational education. Interventions could include dropout prevention efforts, individual assessments of students and programs to better prepare poor students for college.
That trade-off drew resistance from Rep. Mike Castle (search), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce's subcommittee on education reform. "It does not look likely" that Bush's testing plan will go forward in Congress, said Castle, R-Del.
"Personally, I believe in it. I think everybody would like to see us do more at the high school level, but there may be certain members of Congress who don't think Congress should be involved," Castle said at an education forum. "I can't give its chances as being very high at this time, but I've seen stranger things happen. So hopefully something can be worked out."
Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the full committee and a stalwart defender of the No Child Left Behind law, has been noticeably noncommittal about Bush's idea. Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Bush for a proposal that he said would "spark a healthy debate" in Congress.
In the Senate, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, GOP Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, pledged to "carefully consider" Bush's high school ideas.
Much of the lobbying effort will fall to new Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, a White House veteran who has good relations with lawmakers of both parties. She wants to build national momentum, drawing particularly on support from governors, for the president's effort.
"As with all major policy initiatives, there will be negotiations with the legislative branch," Spellings said. "We look forward to working with Chairman Castle, as well as all the other members of the House and Senate. ... This is the beginning of the process."
Castle, a moderate, said many conservative members of his party oppose the proposed testing expansions as an intrusion on local school control.
The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to show yearly progress among all major groups of students, with the goal of getting all children up to grade level in reading and math. Testing is a cornerstone, and Bush officials says it makes sense to expand it in high school.
But Democratic leaders say they have been burned by their first go-round on the education law, which passed with highly touted bipartisan support. Democrats say schools have not received enough money and that Bush's new budget makes it worse by cutting overall spending.
"High schools need help, but President Bush's proposal faces stiff resistance on Capitol Hill because he has little credibility anymore," said Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee.
Bush also wants to expand access to Advanced Placement testing, increase competitive grants in math and science and reward teachers whose students excel. Those plans are offset by cuts elsewhere in education.
"The resources the president are proposing are essentially stolen from another critical program," said Carmel Martin, chief education adviser for Sen. Edward Kennedy, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee.