The New Education Bill

01/02/02 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin



A new education bill is sitting on the President's desk to be signed when congress returns.

This achievement for America's children reminds me of when Nixon went to China.

Only a Republican could have done it.

At the heart of the education bill is a bigger role for the federal government targeting funds where they are most needed - poor school districts and poorly performing children.

As the former Deputy Secretary of Education in the Clinton administration, I have to admit that the Republicans have accomplished we tried to do but couldn't, largely because of protests from Republicans who held firm to the belief that education was exclusively a state and local issue.

Remember when they wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education?

The increase in federal aid to poor school districts is our best hope for creating a level playing field for those who are now deprived, often of the most basic resources, such as textbooks.

One of the great shocks I experienced when I worked in Washington was the stark contrast between rich and poor schools.

One morning, visiting a down-at-the-heels Chicago school I saw a meager library, a few hand me down computers and a tiny chemistry lab, crowded with students.

That same afternoon I visited a suburban school and saw the state of the art chemistry lab, and a technology room that seemed to have the same square footage as the entire school I had visited in Chicago that morning.

My conclusion, "It's not fair."

There was no question that the Chicago students were being left behind.

To help students catch up, the legislation has taken another step--testing.

Yes, it's controversial and will result in such practices as teaching to the test. But I stand behind annual reading and math tests for grades three to eight. How else will we know what children are learning and what they are missing?

Most countries that have good education systems have some form of testing. Harsh as it is, it eventually lifts the level of achievement.

The new law is important for what it does not constrain - private school voucher systems - a partisan flash point which is best left off the table.

Yes, there should be more money for special education. Jim Jeffords is right.

And no, this is not the cure all for all our education ills.

But it is a giant step forward, and a sterling example of bi-partisanship at work on behalf of America's children.

This is Madeleine Kunin in Burlington.

--Madeleine Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.
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