The Bush Administration and Education

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Changes have come to many education-related programs under President Bush’s administration. Among them:

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

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By any measure, President Bush’s biggest accomplishment in education was the enactment of the school improvement law, which reflects many of the core ideas proposed by him, including expanded testing, tough accountability standards, and new options for students in low-performing schools. The president expended substantial political capital to ensure its passage under a broadly bipartisan approach.


More than 2,000 schools in every state and the District of Columbia are participating in the president’s Reading First initiative. Under the $1 billion-a-year program, states are training thousands of elementary school teachers and reading coaches in what is described as research-based instruction, which incorporates basic skills, as well as comprehension and fluency. With their Reading First grants, states are also implementing new reading series and ongoing assessments to gauge students’ progress.

School Choice

Mr. Bush dropped his goal of including a private-school-voucher program in the No Child Left Behind Act, but he did secure a provision under which Title I schools that do not make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row are required to allow students to transfer to other schools. Separately, the administration successfully pushed for the first federally financed program of private school vouchers, a five-year pilot program in the District of Columbia that awards up to $7,500 per student to attend religious and secular private schools.


Both the No Child Left Behind Act and the new Institute of Education Sciences in the Department of Education put a high priority on "scientifically based research" in education. The 2002 law establishing the institute also marked a dramatic overhaul of federal education research operations. Aiming to create a more politically independent research agency, it replaced the position of an assistant secretary for federal education research operations with a director appointed to a six-year term.

Special Education

Under the No Child Left Behind law, districts and schools are held accountable for raising the achievement of all students, including those with disabilities. The Education Department has issued rules that allow districts to use some below-grade-level alternative assessments for students with severe cognitive disabilities. Meanwhile, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has remained unfinished in Congress.

Head Start

The administration instituted testing of children in the Head Start preschool program on vocabulary, letter recognition, and early mathematics skills. The administration has also clashed with critics over the alleged mismanagement of local programs. Mr. Bush pushed for moving Head Start from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Education Department, but critics beat the idea back. The Head Start reauthorization is stalled in Congress.

Title IX

In 2002, the president appointed a commission to study long-standing criticism of enforcement in athletics of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal money. Women’s groups stressed that female athletes still face inequality in school and college athletics, while some advocates for men’s athletics complained that Title IX has led to the elimination of certain men’s teams. The commission made 23 recommendations, but the Education Department last year renewed its support for the law and its regulations.

Higher Education

In 2003, the administration filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing racial preferences in college admissions. After the court upheld affirmative action under certain circumstances, the administration still promoted race- neutral admissions polices. Spending for financial aid has increased under President Bush to a record level, but the president has proposed keeping the maximum Pell Grant award level at $4,050 for the third straight year, at a time when such grants cover a smaller chunk of college costs than ever.

Education Department Management

President Bush inherited an Education Department with a history of financial- management problems, including failed audits and sketchy data collection. Department employees also had been involved in scandals related to waste and fraud. To fight the problems, the agency curbed the use of department credit cards, among other measures. In 2003, the department earned its first "clean" audit in six years.

PHOTO: President Bush shakes hands with Cecilia Palacio after signing the No Child Left Behind Act in Hamilton, Ohio, on Jan. 8, 2002.
—File photo by Win McNamee/Reuters

Vol. 24, Issue 05, Page 24

Published in Print: September 29, 2004, as The Bush Administration and Education
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