September 21, 2004
No US voter un-got-at

Here's a headline to savour:

House parties planned to educate voters on education

The nation's largest union is teaming up with teachers and liberal political groups to sponsor simultaneous, education-themed "house parties" in Palm Beach and Broward counties and across the country Wednesday night.

The social calendar will never be the same.

Bring your concerns about public schools, not booze or funny hats.

Yes. What do you think this is, a party? This is education we're talking about. You're not here to enjoy yourselves.

Organizers hope the first-ever National Mobilization for Great Public Schools gets more people focused on education issues before the general election and beyond.

So, that would be "educate" as in propagandise, and "education" as in spending lots more money on schools.

While the event is billed as nonpartisan, the main sponsor is the National Education Association, the 2.7 million member union and teacher professional group that has endorsed Democrat John Kerry. Co-sponsors include MoveOn.org, the Web-based liberal organization that regularly bashes President Bush.

And they'll be doing some non-partisan Bush-bashing.

The federal No Child Left Behind law, the cornerstone of Bush's education-reform program, is billed as a key discussion topic. A Web site previewing the festivities claims "the White House and Congress are failing to provide the basics. Worse, the White House now plans to cut education programs in the first budget after the election."

Which makes me think that "No Child Left Behind" may not be as bad as I had been
assuming.

This guy certainly thinks that it is doing some good.

The president began putting the first part of his education reform package into place literally hours after he took the oath of office. The morning after the inauguration, he and Mrs. Bush listened carefully as Reid Lyon and other top education researchers presented their findings at a White House forum on reading pedagogy. The president made it clear that he wanted federal reading policy to go "wherever the evidence leads."

From his gubernatorial days, Bush already had a good idea that the evidence was leading straight to phonics. Following Lyon’s advice, he had pushed local districts in Texas to adopt phonics-based curricula and saw reading scores in the state shoot up, particularly for minority kids. The number of third-graders – 52,000 – who failed the reading test at the start of the Bush governorship declined to 36,000 when he left for the White House and has since dropped to 28,000, now that all his reforms are up and running. Since then, the evidence has become irrefutable. After reviewing dozens of studies – some using magnetic resonance imaging to measure differences in brain function between strong and weak readers and among children taught to read by various methods – the National Reading Panel, commissioned by Congress, concluded in 2000 that effective reading programs, especially for kids living in poverty, required phonics-based instruction.

Within a week of taking office, the Bush administration devised a strategy for getting a $6 billion "Reading First" phonics initiative past the relevant House and Senate education committees. The administration was offering school systems a deal that went like this: "The federal government will give you lots more money than ever before for early reading programs. Nothing obligates you to take the money. But if you do take it, the programs you choose must teach children using phonics." Hardly a single legislator raised doubts about tying federal reading dollars to instructional approaches backed by a consensus of the nation’s scientific experts.

This "scientific experts" stuff strikes me as somewhat questionable, but I'll leave those questions for another time.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:32 PM
Category: Politics