In a January 12 speech at J.E. B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, VA, President George Bush outlined a proposal to extend educational testing and accountability requirements to public high schools across the nation. The 2001 "No Child Left Behind" Act required that states test all third- through eighth-grade students in math and reading (and, starting in 2007, students must be tested in science three times between third and twelfth grade). Bush's new plan calls for math and reading assessments to continue through eleventh grade. Bush plans to request $1.5 billion for this proposal in his FY 2006 budget request, but much of that money would be taken from existing programs.
As part of this proposal, the President would recycle his plan from last year - which Congress did not support - to devote $120 million of the Education Department's Mathematics and Science Partnership Program (MSP) funding strictly to improving secondary math instruction. Bush plans to request $269 million in FY 2006 for the MSPs, equal to FY 2005 funding. But instead of the entire $269 million being available for partnerships between university departments, school districts, state education agencies and other partners to improve math and science instruction and teacher professional development, $120 million would be targeted "to support projects to accelerate the mathematics achievement of all secondary students, and especially low-achieving students," according to a White House press release. Congress did not fence off any funds for this purpose in FY 2005.
Components of Bush's plan include a $500 million incentive fund to reward successful teachers; $52 million to ensure that teachers in low-income schools are prepared to teach Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses; $45 million for State Scholars programs which require students to take rigorous high school science, math and other courses; $200 million for a Striving Readers program; and support for Adjunct Teacher programs that encourage "professionals to teach middle and high school courses...particularly in mathematics and science."
Selected quotations from President Bush's speech follow:
STUDENT MATH AND SCIENCE PERFORMANCE: "I'm here at Stuart High School because I want other schools who have got a student population as diverse as a Stuart High School does to know that success and excellence is possible.... And, yet, many of our nation's high schools face serious challenges. Out of a hundred 9th graders in our public schools, only 68 will complete high school on time.... And a 68 percent graduation rate for 9th graders is not good enough to be able to compete in this competitive world. In math and science, the problem is especially urgent. A recent study showed that American 15-year-olds ranked 27th out of 39 countries in math literacy. I don't know about you, but I want to be ranked first in the world, not 27th.
I view the results in our high school as a warning, and a call to action. And I believe the federal government has a role to play. As you can tell, I believe the federal government had a role to play in primary education, and I believe the federal government has a role to play in secondary education. Up to now, the reforms, as I've explained to you, focus on the primary schools. Today, I propose a $1.5 billion initiative to help every high school student graduate with the skills necessary to succeed."
ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: "The role of the federal government is to -- is to serve as a funding source for specific projects, and an instigator for accountability systems. The accountability system is, of course, devised by local people.... I don't believe in a federal test. I believe a federal test leads to federal control, and I believe federal control of the public school systems leads to failure. And so I believe the federal government has an obligation to help in a way that helps local districts and local schools achieve our objectives. Some of that money...will go to early intervention programs."
TESTING: "To ensure that the intervention programs are working and graduates are prepared, we need to be certain that high school students are learning every year. So the second component of my high school initiative is to measure progress with tests in reading and math in the 9th, 10th and 11th grade. Listen, I've heard every excuse in the book not to test. My answer is, how do you know if a child is learning if you don't test. We've got money in the budget to help the states implement the tests.... I've heard people say you're teaching the test; if you teach a child to read, they'll pass the test. Testing is important. Testing at high school levels will help us to become more competitive as the years go by. Testing in high schools will make sure that our children are employable for the jobs of the 21st century. Testing will allow teachers to improve their classes. Testing will enable schools to track. Testing will make sure that diploma is not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed."
HIGH SCHOOL MATH INITIATIVE: "To make sure that people can find work in the 21st century, high school graduates also need a firm grasp on math. I'm proposing a $120 million initiative to improve high school math. With these funds, school districts will set up programs to train math teachers in methods proven to succeed. Every student should be prepared in math so that every graduate has the skills necessary to succeed.... [T]he best jobs are those that require math, some sense of understanding of math. And too many of our students don't understand that -- understand math. And we've got to get it right."
ACCOUNTABILITY: "We're making great progress of the No Child Left Behind Act. I will vigorously defend the No Child Left Behind Act. We will not accept rolling back the -- the accountability systems in the No Child Left Behind Act, because I believe the accountability systems are beginning to make a huge difference in the lives of children from all walks of life across this country."