Gore Takes Pains To Contrast Agenda With That of Bush
Vice President Al Gore spent a lot of time during a recent education speech contrasting his agenda with that of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, even while some of the accountability proposals he announced bear a striking resemblance to those of his Republican rival for the presidency.
When they talk about educational accountability, the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees both emphasize financial rewards for success and penalties for failure, expanding school choice and competition, and shining a spotlight on poor-performing schools.
But Jonathan Schnur, an adviser to Mr. Gore, says there are profound policy differences, such as Gov. Bush’s support for private school vouchers. “Gore’s plan insists on dramatic reform of failing schools, increased investment, and attracting the best teachers and principals,” Mr. Schnur said. The vice president favors greater school choice, but within the public system.
During his April 27 address to the National Conference of Black Mayors in Dallas, Mr. Gore highlighted the link between money and accountability. “Investment without accountability is a waste of money. Accountability without investment is doomed to fail,” he said. Mr. Gore proposes to spend an additional $115 billion over 10 years on education, compared with Mr. Bush’s plan to spend $13.5 billion over five years.
Before the Dallas speech, some critics had complained that Mr. Gore had failed to articulate a vision for accountability, a theme central to Mr. Bush’s school agenda. Mr. Gore has discussed accountability before, but in Dallas he provided more detail and new proposals to beef up his platform.
For one, he would impose financial sanctions on states that failed to improve student achievement and close the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. A state’s administrative portion of federal aid would be diverted to a fund to help poor-performing schools. At the same time, states and schools that showed significant progress would receive bonuses.
Mr. Gore also detailed his plans for turning around failing schools. If a school did not improve sufficiently after one year, the state and the district would overhaul its curriculum, provide intensive professional development for teachers, and remove low-performing teachers. If after two years the school did not improve, it would be closed and reopened under a new principal, or be reopened as a charter school.
Mindy Tucker, Gov. Bush’s press secretary, said the Bush campaign was pleased that the vice president was embracing accountability. “We’re certainly not going to criticize his conversion,” she said.
But she, like Mr. Schnur, pointed to key differences between the candidates. First, unlike Mr. Gore, the governor would require states to test students in grades 3-8. “There’s no real way to see if the achievement gap is closing [without annual testing],” Ms. Tucker said.
Mr. Bush also proposes that if a failing school does not improve after three years, students could use their share of federal aid to attend another school, whether public or private, or pay for tutoring.
The Gore accountability agenda makes no mention of requiring states to end the so-called social promotion of students. Ending that practice is a cornerstone of the Clinton accountability agenda. The vice president would, however, encourage states to institute high school exit exams.
Eligible high school students wishing to vote in the fall elections can now register online.
As part of National High School Voter Registration Week, May 8-12, students can turn to www.BeAVoter.org, a World Wide Web site sponsored by the Close Up Foundation, America Online, and others.
Students who will be 18 or older by Nov. 7 can visit the site and fill in an online form for their states. Within five to 10 days, a paper copy requiring their signatures will be sent to them.
—Erik W. Robelen
A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2000 edition of Education Week as Election Notebook