The Case of the Mysterious Texas Achievement Study
The Department of Education last week rejected a request from three Republican members of the House to turn over a study on student performance in Texas that they say impugns George W. Bush’s education record.
Until late last week, department officials had denied any knowledge that the study even existed. But they acknowledged April 6 that a department researcher had admitted to writing it.
The study concerns student-achievement gains in Texas, where Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has served as governor since 1995.
Department spokesman Tom Lyon said the study was done on the researcher’s own time without being commissioned, authorized, or funded by the department.
The document in question was first cited publicly in a news story in The Sun of Baltimore that turned a skeptical eye toward Mr. Bush’s record in improving student achievement while governor.
The newspaper’s March 28 story referred to several studies, including one “drafted by a senior researcher at the U.S. Department of Education.”
It was written “under a pseudonym and has not been made public,” the story said.
After the story appeared, Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House education committee, and two of its subcommittee chairmen, called on Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley to turn over the report.
“The existence of such a study raises potentially serious concerns about the use of the department’s resources for political purposes,” the Republican lawmakers wrote.
Deputy Secretary of Education Frank S. Holleman III responded in an April 6 letter to Mr. Goodling that the department was under no obligation to turn over the study because it was not “a department product.”
“The department does not have the study, did not request or authorize it, and has no plans to produce or distribute it,” Mr. Holleman wrote.
Mr. Lyon said the researcher identified himself to department officials April 5. The spokesman declined to identify him; Mr. Holleman’s letter describes him only as “a midlevel career employee.”
The mystery may be solved shortly, however. Mr. Holleman wrote that the researcher was considering trying to get the study published in a private journal.
The achievement of students in Texas has become an issue in the presidential campaign. Vice President Al Gore, who has clinched the Democratic nomination, has criticized Mr. Bush’s record as governor by pointing out in a TV advertisement that Texas ranks 45th in the nation in SAT scores. Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, meanwhile, suggest Texas is improving student achievement.
After focusing his presidential campaign almost exclusively on education for an entire week, Gov. Bush might have expected a little something for the effort.
But a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted shortly after his announcements of new plans for reading and teacher quality found public trust in the presumptive GOP nominee slipping on education matters.
Some 48 percent of respondents said Vice President Gore would be better able to improve public education and the schools, compared with 39 percent who chose Gov. Bush. The two candidates were neck and neck on that question in a Post-ABC poll conducted less than a month earlier; in a poll last October, Mr. Bush led Mr. Gore by 45 percent to 41 percent.
The latest poll, which surveyed 1,083 randomly selected adults and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points, was conducted between March 30 and April 2. Mr. Bush dedicated the week of March 27-31 to education, making visits to schools and outlining major additions to his education agenda.
The poll found that 76 percent of respondents said “improving education and the schools” was “very important.”
—Andrew Trotter & Erik W. Robelen
A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as Election Notebook