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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Republicans proud of steps to improve schools

 •  GOP shows unity, post-9/11 resolve
 •  Hawai'i puts its mark on New York
 •  Youngest Hawai'i delegate a fired-up 24

By Ledyard King and Mike Madden
Advertiser Washington Bureau

NEW YORK — Education has long been territory that Democrats have claimed, but Republicans will use their national convention this week to boast about steps they've taken to improve schools.

First lady and former teacher Laura Bush and Education Secretary Rod Paige are expected today to trumpet the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush's initiative to boost student achievement and close the gap in test scores between whites and minorities.

Hawai'i delegates to the GOP convention say they're pleased with the new law, which has come under fire from some quarters.

Teachers and other public school advocates say the law relies too heavily on test scores to judge a school's value and that neither the president nor the Republican-controlled Congress have provided enough money to pay for the reforms.

"We're grateful for the extra federal dollars," said state Rep. Barbara Marumoto, a Republican from Wai'alae Iki. "Maybe it's not enough, but it's more than we've gotten in the past."

The state is spending an extra $175 per student each year, or $30 million annually, to meet the law's requirements.

Even so, a new national poll suggests the public — especially parents — are warming up to an initiative that still is a decade away from full implementation.

Most Americans with an opinion on the law believe it will improve student achievement in local schools, according to the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll released last week. And most said they are likelier to vote for a presidential candidate who supports No Child Left Behind.

The poll even showed an increasing number of people viewing the Republican Party, which once advocated eliminating the Department of Education, as more interested in improving public schools, although Democrats still led 42 percent to 35 percent.

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires annual student testing in reading and math in grades three through eight.

If any one racial or ethnic group of students does not progress far enough, their schools get extra help. If they still fail to meet standards, the schools could face penalties, including staff changes or state takeover. Parents could also transfer their children to other schools.

The goal is to make all students — regardless of disability, race, ethnicity or English skills — proficient in reading and math by 2014.

"We are leaving behind the broken system that shuffled children from grade to grade, even when they were not learning the basics," Bush said in his weekly radio address Aug. 21.

Delegates from Hawai'i said that only makes sense.

"Teachers should be held accountable, school districts should be held accountable," said Jana DiMartino, an alternate delegate from Kihei. "It's a wonderful thing."

Gov. Linda Lingle said improving education was the only way to help maintain a good economy in the long run.

"I consider them the same issue," she said.

Despite misgivings, education experts concede the law already is having its intended effect of boosting test scores.

"It's a flawed strategy that will lead to greater student achievement," said Jack Jennings, who runs the Washington-based Center on Education Policy. "The question (is) whether the flaws are going to be addressed."

Sen. John Kerry, who voted for the law, has blasted Bush on the campaign trail for failing to provide enough money for it. He proposes spending at least $27 billion more to help poorer school districts implement the law.

Bush proposes $37 billion in school financing, a 49 percent increase since 2001. But Jennings said it's a relatively minor blip since local and state sources still cover more than 90 percent of the cost of education.