School Choice & Charters

Bush Policy Chief Predicts More Assessments, More Choice

By Joetta L. Sack — October 03, 2001 2 min read

For months, the buzz around the Bush education plan has been about annual tests, more flexibility for states in spending federal education dollars, and how many new federal dollars will be made available.

If, as expected, a version of that plan becomes law, what happens next?

President Bush’s top aide for domestic issues is predicting an “evolution in assessments,” which would include more tests in more subjects, and perhaps more school choice.

Margaret Spellings, President Bush’s domestic-policy adviser, told a Washington education symposium last week that increased accountability inevitably will spark greater demand for school choice.
—James W. Prichard/Education Week

Margaret Spellings, the president’s domestic-policy adviser, stopped short of revealing any new White House education initiatives last week when she spoke to about 200 attendees of a symposium on education. The event in downtown Washington was co-sponsored by Harper’sMagazine, which devoted its fall issue to the topic of improving education, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

With work proceeding in Congress on a compromise plan to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states can expect to see requirements to test students in grades 3-8 annually in reading and mathematics to gauge their progress and hold schools more accountable for achievement.

That plan is likely to stir controversy among educators and parents who worry that schools already test too much, Ms. Spellings said.

“There will be a little shock to the system,” when the accountability plan is put into place, said Ms. Spellings, who was known as Margaret La Montagne until her recent marriage.

However, she argued, once educators realize the usefulness of the data, they likely will appreciate the tests and call for assessments in other subjects and at other levels, such as more advanced tests for gifted and talented students.

‘Choice Will Flourish’

And when some parents realize how poorly their public schools are performing, they might also demand more school choice, she said. “The whole school choice movement will flourish when people have data about how schools are doing,” predicted Ms. Spellings, who was Mr. Bush’s education aide while he was the governor of Texas.

Mr. Bush has long been a supporter of school choice. He proposed a voucher plan that was quickly excised from the ESEA reauthorization earlier this year, emerging instead as federal money for parent-requested tutoring in consistently failing schools.

Despite much opposition from members of both parties in Congress, Ms. Spellings and other White House officials have dropped hints in recent months that the president is still interested in publicly financed vouchers and could propose another plan sometime after the ESEA reauthorization. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to hear a case on the constitutionality of voucher plans that include religious schools.

Congressional lawmakers hope to complete work on the ESEA this fall.

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