Educators Shine in Inaugural Week's Spotlight
Washington--George Bush last week told a gathering of some 240 teachers that he had invited them to his inauguration and made his address to them the first official inaugural event to underscore his commitment to be the "education President."
"Two days before I begin trying, I wanted you to know that I meant it," he said at a special forum here Jan. 18. "Education will be on my desk and on my mind right from the start, every day."
The forum, held in Washington's new Museum of Women in the Arts, was one of several events highlighting education during the most costly and lavish Presidential inauguration in American history--and the first ever to give educators and their role such prominence.
Mr. Bush left it to Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos to outline portions of his Administration's education policy and offer some details about implementation of his proposed "merit schools" program.
Instead, Mr. Bush's speech focused on extolling the importance of education--and particularly of teachers.
"Education is the key to our very competitiveness in the future as a nation and to our soul as a people," he said. "Teaching should be afforded as much respect as any profession in America."
Good News for Skeptics?
Former Gov. John H. Sununu of New Hampshire, now Mr. Bush's chief of staff, also affirmed the President-elect's commitment.
"I assure you that in his public comments, George Bush reflects exactly the same kind of interest, the same kind of commitment that he gives to this issue in private discussions," Mr. Sununu said. "I suggest to you that those skeptics who didn't feel that this was going to go a long way after the election are going to be pleasantly surprised."
The speakers' remarks prompted varied responses from the teachers who were attending the inaugural as Mr. Bush's guests, ranging from skepticism to enthusiastic support. Many expressed a little of both.
"I'm an optimist. I believe that this is a sincere effort," said Jeanine Cudd, a Baldwin, Mo., teacher who had backed Mr. Bush in the Presidential campaign. "But words are easy. We'll see how the actions come out."
Access and Accountablility
Mr. Cavazos said the Education Department's focus during the Bush Administration would be on "expectations, access, and accountability."
The Secretary said he would work to ensure that students and schools are held to high standards, that all young people have access to a good education, and that students and parents, as well as educators, are held accountable for results.
He argued that teachers should help develop certification and evaluation systems.
"We will expect teachers to be responsible and accountable for their educational programs," he said, "because we will urge that they participate in the decisions about the educational programs they teach."
While acknowledging that the Education Department's budget is a "powerful tool," Mr. Cavazos stressed his view that Washington's most important role lies in "using the considerable resources of the federal government to share with the entire nation what we learn from your own successes and failures from day to day in teaching pupils and managing schools."
He pledged to emphasize the dissemination of proven ideas in such areas as curriculum development, dropout prevention, parental choice, and early-childhood intervention.
'Merit Schools' Plan
Mr. Cavazos indicated that the first of Mr. Bush's campaign pledges to be fleshed out is likely to be the merit-schools plan, which would reward successful schools selected by the states.
"In judging merit," he said, "we expect the states will want to look at such results as test scores; college-participation rates; successful employment of graduates; and, of critical importance, success in improving school participation and performance of the disadvantaged and the handicapped."
"I want to help shape a merit-schools program that places a special emphasis on reducing dropout rates," added Mr. Cavazos, who has made dropout-prevention a favorite theme during his first four months in office.
Promoting Parental Choice
The Secretary also reiterated Mr. Bush's commitment to promoting parental choice. The President-elect has asked the Education Department to monitor local and state "experiments" in that area, he noted, "and we will do that in the interest of achieving better public schools."
"Where appropriate, we will encourage innovative choice programs with financial incentives, such as awards to magnet schools and grant competitions under programs like the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching," Mr. Cavazos said.
Another emphasis will be on early-childhood education, he suggested, indicating that the Bush Administration will seek to "expand" existing programs and "develop others with the states."
"We need to develop significant4programs that result in the education of children. We must combine that with day care," Mr. Cavazos added.
The Secretary said he planned to continue the practice of releasing an annual "wall chart" of state statistics, which he hopes to expand into a report for the President "on the state of education in America."