I just read Lisa Snell's article about my brother's plan to improve public education ("Schoolhouse Crock," August/September). While she made some important points, I do think she discounted the trials and tribulations of being in the arena, trying to make reforms against significant opposition. I did not see in the article any realistic alternatives to his proposal or what we are trying to do here in Florida.
Our accountability efforts have yielded rising student achievement across the board with even better results in the lower performing schools. In Florida, we also allow for vouchers for all ESE [special ed] students. Next school year, a corporate tax credit will allow low-income parents to send their kids to private schools. Each incremental reform creates the opportunity for another one. If Snell has a realistic alternative, this governor would love to learn about it.
Gov. Jeb Bush
One need not be a Pollyanna to see optimistic signs to balance Lisa Snell's well-crafted cover story on why federal dollars can't buy true school reform any more than true love.
First, tiny though it may be now, the new Title I provision allowing families in failing public schools to purchase private tutoring services does establish a beachhead for expanded private choice.
Moreover, while lobbyists for the education monopoly were gunning for Title I vouchers, President Bush quietly used the tax bill to advance the principle that families should be free to direct their education dollars as they see fit. The expansion of tax-sheltered Education Savings Accounts to K�12 wipes out the monopoly's irrational contention that tax breaks should be reserved for students fortunate enough to go to college.
Finally, the Bush administration's biggest boost for school reform may have come in Solicitor General Ted Olson's call for the U.S. Supreme Court to use the Cleveland case to uphold the constitutionality of free-choice vouchers. If vouchers are sustained by the nation's highest court, that will open the door to hundreds of locally devised initiatives, such as Louisiana's plan to aid 600 poor New Orleans preschoolers in enrolling in parochial schools this fall. And, after all, that's where true reform must blossom -- at the grassroots.
We live in the "highly regarded" suburban school district of Plano, Texas, where over 90 percent of all students passed all the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests last year. We have 40 "exemplary" campuses and 21 Blue Ribbon schools, myriad awards, and a reputation that brings thousands to town every year because of the "quality" of the education.
Imagine my surprise when I found out achievement at my daughter's elementary school and the district in general wasn't all it was cracked up to be. According to the Just For the Kids Foundation (www. Just4kids.org), while 93 percent of third graders managed to "pass" the mathematics TAAS in 1999, only 44 percent managed a higher "proficient" standard determined by the foundation. That led me to look into just exactly what it means to "pass" the TAAS. A few years ago a third grader had to answer about 75 percent of the questions correctly in order to pass. Now it is closer to 50 percent of the questions.
I am dismayed when news reports show record numbers of parents giving their public schools terrific ratings. Why? We can't even teach our children to multiply! Change will not occur as long as school districts and state education departments and even the Department of Education are allowed to send out what amounts to propaganda about student achievement without being challenged.
Just because Lisa Snell's son is attending a school with sub-par reading scores doesn't mean he has to be a sub-par reader. Parents, not the school system or the government, are ultimately responsible for their children's education.
Snell is right in saying that the president's plan is doomed to failure. But not for the reasons she cites. This new plan will fail for precisely the same reason all the previous plans failed: because there is nothing the federal government can do to substantially improve the nation's schools -- except, perhaps, get out of their way. Our poor schools are not so much a sickness themselves as they are a symptom of the greater epidemic: Individuals don't want to take any responsibility. Parents won't take responsibility for what their children learn (much less what they do); they expect the schools to take care of that. And communities won't take responsibility for their failing schools. That's government's job, isn't it?