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Bush Education Ad: Going Positive, Selectively

Bush ad claims "dramatic results" in Texas schools, but fails to mention data-manipulation scandal.

May 12, 2004

Modified: May 12, 2004

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Summary

 

Bush released an ad May 12 claiming "dramatic results" from his Texas school reforms and touting his "No Child Left Behind" law as "the most significant education reforms in 35 years."

But some of those Texas claims were scaled back last year after school officials were shown to be fudging the numbers to disguise high drop-out rates. And many state officials are complaining that Bush's policies impose expensive new requirements without a large enough increase in federal aid to pay for them.

Analysis

After weeks of misleading ads attacking Kerry's record on taxes and military spending, the Bush campaign finally had something nice to say.

Bush Cheney '04 Ad

"Key To Success"

Bush: I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message.

Announcer: As governor, George Bush enacted reforms that produced dramatic results.
As president, he signed the most significant education reforms in 35 years.
Because accountability and high standards are the keys to quality schools, the president's reforms give parents the tools needed to measure a child's progress.
Today public schools require raised standards, well-qualified teachers, accountability to parents.
Because no child in America should be left behind.

The ad shows Bush hugging a school child, and paints a glowing picture of the federal education reforms he pushed through two years ago. It accurately summarizes the main points of his No Child Left Behind Act, saying "public schools require raised standards, well-qualified teachers, accountability to parents."

The act is indeed giving parents new tools for holding public schools accountable and measuring progress. Already, detailed data on schools in many states are available on the Internet, for example.

Dramatic Results?

But when the ad claims that Bush's Texas reforms "produced dramatic results" it omits a key fact: those results were inflated to some extent by school officials who reported false information about drop-out rates to improve their statistics.

In Houston, investigators found 3,000 students who should have been listed as dropouts but weren't. A local television station, KHOU-TV, called citywide dropout statistics a "lesson in lies." The station found one former student working at a Wendy's fast-food restaurant after her public high school reported that she had left to attend private school. The Washington Post later found another high school that reported an unbelievably low 0.3 percent dropuout rate when in fact up to half its students failed to graduate. The CBS program "60 Minutes II" reported that Houston's entire school system reported a city-wide dropout rate of 1.5 percent when the true dropout rate was somewhere between 25 and 50 percent, according to educators and experts checked by CBS News.

It's true that drop-out rates were not the only statistics used to measure progress, but the scandal happened in Houston -- where Bush's Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige had been superintendent. That has raised questions about how well reforms really worked in Texas, and also about whether school officials nationally will manipulate statistics to look good under the new standards imposed by the No Child Left Behind law.

The Question of Money

Also left unmentioned in the Bush ad is the question of money. As we've pointed out before, federal aid to education has increased sharply under Bush. Funding for the Department of Education rose 58% during Bush's first three years, a bigger increase than during the previous eight years under Clinton.

But many say even that increase is not enough, considering the demands the law imposes on schools. Funding is still $7 billion a year under what was envisioned in the authorizing legislation for No Child Left Behind, according to the National Education Association.

And it isn't just Democrats and the teachers unions saying it. In Republican-dominated Utah, the superintendent of the state's largest school district estimated it would cost $182 million over the next 10 years to implement all the provisions of No Child Left Behind, compared to the $2.2 million per year it now receives in federal aid. And in Republican-dominated Ohio, a study for the state department of education estimated the cost of compliance with the law to be $149 million per year.

Even one former Bush administration official is now lamenting the lack of resources.  Susan B. Neuman was the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education until January 2003. She recently  told a meeting of the International Reading Association in Reno, Nev., that she worries that the most vulnerable children are still being left behind, despite the law that she helped implement:

Neuman: In [the most disadvantaged schools] in America, even the most earnest teacher has often given up because they lack every available resource that could possibly make a difference. . . . When we say all children can achieve and then not give them the additional resources . . . we are creating a fantasy.

Neuman has now returned to the University of Michigan, where she is a professor of education.

Sources

 

Michael Dobbs, " Education 'Miracle' Has a Math Problem : Bush Critics Cite Disputed Houston Data," Washington Post 8 Nov 2003.

Dan Rather "The Texas Miracle; Texas schools cooking the books?" CBS: 60 Minutes II , 7 Jan 2004.

Michael Dobbs, "More States Are Fighting 'No Child Left Behind' Law: Complex Provisions, Funding Gaps In Bush Education Initiative Cited," Washington Post 19 Feb 2004.

William Driscoll and Howard Fleeter, " Projected Costs of Implementing the Federal 'No Child Left Behind Act' In Ohio" Ohio Department of Education, 12 Dec 2003.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, "Reading Experts Offer Insights Into State, Federal Policies," Education Week 12 May 2004.