Bush: More Testing, Budget Cuts and PR

K-12 Testing

Despite widespread calls for fundamental change to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush appears to believe that all the law needs to succeed is more testing and better publicity. In his speech at the Republican National Convention in August 2004, President Bush touted NCLB’s “successes” and proposed mandating additional exams in high school. Rather than answer substantive concerns about NCLB, his administration is spending taxpayer funds on promotional videos masquerading as news stories.


In his speech, Bush proposed that NCLB’s mandate for annual testing in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 be expanded to include testing in grades 9 and 11. When he said, “As we make progress, we will require a rigorous exam before graduation,” Bush led some to believe he was calling for mandated exit exams. The statement prompted a flurry of conflicting reports about its meaning. Campaign officials issued a clarification: the proposal is “absolutely not an exit exam,” said John Bailey, the campaign's deputy policy director.


The effort to burnish the law’s reputation seems to rely on encouraging confusion—by attempting to pass off a canned public relations package as “news.” A video produced by Ketchum Inc. and pitched to TV stations features U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige touting NCLB’s tutoring provision. The video ends with a voice saying, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” Ryan is not a journalist but owns Karen Ryan Group Communications. She is the same “reporter” used in fake news spots to promote the Medicare bill, spots that the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined were illegal, covert propaganda. Another taxpayer-funded service provided to the Bush administration by Ketchum is a ranking of NCLB news coverage, with points awarded to stories that portray Bush and Republicans as strong on education.


While funds continue to flow for NCLB promotion, Bush reportedly plans steep cuts in education funding. According to a May 19, 2004, White House memo, the administration plans to propose a Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget with $1.5 billion less education funding than FY 2005. This represents deeper cuts to education than any other department, according to the Republican-controlled Budget Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.


While President Bush continues to describe NCLB as his answer to “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” a draft report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission cited NCLB as an example of President Bush’s poor overall record on civil rights. The draft report states, “NCLB has flaws that will inhibit equal educational opportunity and limit its ability to close the achievement gap.” The report expresses concern that states will “attach high stakes to tests, punishing students for the system’s failure to teach,” and that minority, limited English proficient, low income and disabled students disproportionately attend underresourced schools that are “more likely to be identified as low performers and subject to sanctions.”