WASHINGTON – Maryland educators gave mixed reviews to the education plan unveiled by President Bush on Tuesday, with union leaders expressing particularly strong opposition to what they said is his call for school vouchers.
“This is clearly a failed political gimmick that is not going to help us educate each child,” said Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. “While you may be able to provide vouchers, it won’t be enough” for every child.
In his third full day in office, Bush outlined his education initiatives in a speech in the East Room of the White House. In an address that was short on specifics, the president said he wanted to tackle education first because it was a hallmark of his tenure as Texas governor.
“All of us want a different attitude in Washington,” said Bush as he laid out his plan. “Change will not come by adding a few federal programs. We need real reform.”
That reform includes Bush’s proposal that every student be tested annually in reading and math and that all school districts be held accountable for academic performance.
Bush also said he wants to give parents the choice of sending their children to private schools with federal money rather than forcing them to continue in a failing public school.
While Bush did not describe that as a school-voucher program, teacher’s unions described it as such — and attacked as such.
“If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, it is a duck,” said Janet Bass, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the parent union of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
Instead of taking students out of low-performing schools, which would weaken the overall structure of the school, it is better to close a failing school down and start over again, Bass said.
A Maryland Department of Education spokesman said that vouchers would face another hurdle in the state — lengthy waiting lists at most of Maryland’s private schools would make it hard for them to use their vouchers.
“If you have vouchers, you have to have someplace to go,” said Neil Greenberger, the spokesman.
Greenberger also said that Bush’s call for annual testing of students would have little effect in Maryland, which already tests students in all but a couple grades.
“We believe the Maryland school system is a model for the nation to follow,” he said. “We won’t see a significant effect on education in Maryland because we’re already doing” most of what Bush proposes.
Maryland’s standards and accountability program has been rated first in the nation by Education Week, and state education officials said they feel Maryland is ahead of almost every state in this area.
Bush’s plan would require states to administer annual tests in an attempt to keep track of how schools, as well as students, are doing. He calls for every state to implement a system of standards and accountability through testing.
“Without testing we don’t find failure until it’s too late to fix,” Bush said at the briefing. “Testing every child every year will stop the cycle.”
Bush also highlighted the need for reform by noting that nearly 70 percent of inner-city fourth graders cannot read at a basic level today and that there are more than 3 million violent outbursts each year in schools.