CONSENSUS FOR AMERICA'S STUDENTS
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
January 3, 2001
America's ability to compete in a global economy hinges in no small part on the education and preparation of our nation's school children. They are our most precious resource, and we have to do everything we can to give them the tools and the education they deserve.
This is a premise on which everyone can agree, but an astounding 40 percent of American fourth graders still can't read at the basic level. American twelfth graders rank dead-last in advanced physics when compared with students in 18 other countries. And one-third of college freshmen have to enroll in a remedial class---either in reading, math, or writing.
While our schools need more flexibility at the local level to deal effectively with the problems facing our educators and our students, there is a federal role in the fight to provide a quality education for each and every student in America. But it's not the traditional role of top-down federal mandates that fail more and more of our students each year; rather, we at the federal level need to focus on achieving a bipartisan consensus on initiatives that will promote flexibility and accountability. These initiatives should guide local administrators and teachers in measuring results, so they can praise success and confront failure.
Fifty years ago the biggest obstacle to classroom learning was talking out of turn or chewing gum in class. Today our students face things like school violence, drug abuse and teen pregnancy, but the specific challenges vary from classroom to classroom, school to school, state to state. So cumbersome one-size-fits-all mandates from Washington are not working. That's why Republicans and Democrats in Congress are united behind the concepts of flexibility and accountability as the keys to results.
As the 107th Congress commences, we'll be focused on President-elect George W. Bush's proposal to increase educational flexibility at the local level. He proposes that we reduce the number of categories of federal education aid from more than 50 to five, cutting the number of hoops an administrator must jump through and giving states the flexibility to implement the education reforms that meet their students' needs. The plan expands schools' freedom by consolidating funding into one of five categories: improving academic performance of disadvantaged students, English proficiency, teacher training and recruitment, student safety, and parental choice and innovative practices.
The Bush plan will also increase federal education funding for the programs in these five categories by $25 billion over five years. Specifically, the additional funding would support important initiatives like Bush's "Reading First," a concentrated and systematic approach to making sure every child reads by the third grade by identifying early reading problems and getting children the help they need to read at age-level. It will include diagnostic tests, intensive teacher training, and summer school and after-school reading programs.
Under the Bush education plan, greater flexibility and more education funding are the cornerstones of increased accountability. State testing of every student in grades three through eight every year in math and science will help ensure that they're on track. The results will be quantified through school report cards and will yield financial incentives for states that demonstrate sustained student improvement. Schools that don't improve will see their funds reduced. In short, President- elect Bush's plan will redefine the relationship between the states and the federal government by granting freedom from regulation in exchange for results.
Education will determine America's success or failure in the global economy. If we want better schools, safer schools and children who know right from wrong, the federal government has a role: providing teachers, administrators and parents with the flexibility and the funding to get the job done and then holding them accountable if they don't.
Congress is ready to work together with President-elect Bush to create the kind of 21st century education system that our children deserve. It's about time.
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