Faculty gives Bush mixed marks

Professors question motives for president's education bill, see benefits in some aspects.

One year ago Sunday, George W. Bush put his hand on the Bible and, amid an election controversy, recited the Oath of Office, pledging to "the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States."

In those 365 days, Bush has worked on taxes, Social Security and international security.

One of his latest presidential moves, though, was to sign a comprehensive education bill. The "No Child Left Behind" bill, signed into law Jan. 8, authorizes billions of dollars for improving education in grades three through eight.

So far, the legislation has met with mixed reactions among professors.

Kenneth Carlson, a professor of elementary education, said he approves of the authorization of billions of federal dollars for education reform, but he said he questions whether the resources will be appropriated to implement the bill.

"It's easy to strike a chord on behalf of education," Carlson said. "It will be interesting to see whether the dollars follow the rhetoric."

Political science professor John Cranor also said the public should remain skeptical until schools see actual money. He said appealing to education is a "standard response of a national political figure."

If schools do receive the funding, much of the money will go toward reading programs. The bill authorizes nearly $1 billion for a program designed to have students reading by third grade.

"Reading is foundational for anything we do," said Roy Weaver, the dean of the Teachers College. "I'm encouraged by that emphasis very much."

To track the progress of the reading and math programs, the national government requires every student in grades three through eight take a state-administered test. Students in schools that fail to meet standards would be able to transfer to better schools.

Cranor and Carlson said they are both concerned about the federal government's role in enforcing educational standards, a duty typically performed by the state.

Carlson, however, said he supports the emphasis on teacher accountability and open enrollment, but he said he doesn't think politicians understand the difficulty of teaching in an environment where students are often influenced by sleep deprivation, hunger, poverty and violence.

"The thing we need to be aware of is that certainly teachers are accountable for the time they have students in the class," Carlson said. "But schools only have kids for 9 percent of the time. They don't have control over what happens the other 91 percent of the time."

Alan Birkemeier, a junior secondary education major, said he worries the federal standardized testing might be biased toward "white, middle-class America," and that the testing will result in poor teaching.

"I'm afraid it will cause teachers to teach to the test, and it is going to eat up a lot of class time," Birkemeier said. "Students won't learn how to learn. They are just going to learn how to take standardized tests."

Education, though, has not been the only concern for the president, nor is it the only one to solicit local opinions.

"His early tax cut, which pandered to the right, cost him the Senate," said Joe Losco, the chairman of the political science department. "With the clearly approaching recession, Bush would have had to raise taxes or curtail his favored spending."

Losco said the spent surplus creates challenges for students by reducing money for student loans and higher education.

"Most economists would tell you that tax rebates are a silly and ineffective way to stimulate the economy," said Marilyn R. Flowers, professor and chairperson of the Department of Economics. "We are probably going to come out of the recession, barring another attack, in the next year."

The largest concern for students will not be their income in the near future, Flowers said. Instead, it will be their retirement incomes.

"The jury is out on the Bush administration in regard to Social Security," she said. "I do give Bush credit for getting the concept of partial privatization out there into the debate."

Nationally, Bush's approval rating, which peaked at a record 90 percent in September, is the longest record-setting approval rating held since former President Lyndon Johnson, according to the Gallup Organization.

Last week, the president's approval rating was 83 percent, according to Gallup.


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