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The Next Four Years

What educators can expect from November's winner

They both want the youth of today to be great leaders of tomorrow. They both support the ideas behind the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which strives to close the achievement gap between whites and minorities and ensure every child is proficient in core subjects in 10 years.

But the way the two major presidential candidates will go about achieving these goals is as different as donkeys and elephants, say three of the nation's biggest education supporters.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is more determined to fully fund No Child Left Behind and work with teachers to ensure every child is treated as an individual, as opposed to President George Bush who initiated No Child, some experts say.

The law's funding is short by about $9 billion, according to the U.S. House of Representatives budget this year, says Denise Cardinal, spokeswoman for the National Education Association.

But the Bush camp points out that federal spending for K-12 education is at a record level--49 percent greater than it was just three years ago. Bush's proposed fiscal year 2005 budget includes another $1 billion in Title I funding for disadvantaged students, or 52 percent more since FY 2001. This breaks down to another $139 million for reading programs, or four times more than spent in 2001, and $1 billion for special education programs, or a 75 percent increase since 2001.

But Kerry is very pro-educator, some education experts say.

"The biggest difference in Sen. Kerry's plan is to include educators. By contrast we've been trying to work with President Bush for the past four years, and they've really pushed us out," Cardinal says. "It's a scientifically proven fact that students learn at different ... speeds. This law doesn't allow for this ... and Kerry is looking into how to change that. It's less about punishment and more about opportunity."

Kerry wants to hire more teachers, while Bush is "more concerned about testing" them more, Cardinal adds.

John See, spokesman for American Federation of Teachers, says Kerry is more reasonable. "We're hoping he'll turn the No Child Left Behind law into something better, funding the provisions and providing regulations that make the details work, including reforming the adequate yearly progress formula," says See. If money is an issue, presidents tend to "find money for their top priorities," he adds.

And the law does not reward low-performing schools that do show improvements over a year or two, See says.

Both AFT and NEA have endorsed Kerry for president.

Bush defends his law, saying that under NCLB minority children are showing improved test scores, and are narrowing the achievement gap, though there is still a long way to go.

The president also has a few ideas in the works. He is looking to add funds for middle grades in the fiscal 2005 budget, namely $100 million to more than double the number of youths served by a mentoring program that will help at-risk middle grade students transition to high school.

According to Bush's Web site, Bush will provide $250 million every year to extend state assessment of student reading and math skills in grades 3-11.

He will focus Head Start on school readiness and allow states to integrate the early education program into their existing pre-school preparedness efforts to better use federal and state resources. His administration will also train parents in early literacy through Head Start.

Bush also says he will fund development of the most effective curricula and programs for teaching students early literacy and math skills, establish developmentally appropriate measures, and identify effective adult and family literacy programs. He also wants to expand Reach Out and Read, a program that makes early literacy a standard part of pediatric primary care.

And he will continue to expand distribution of Healthy Start, Grow Smart booklets for parents to enhance their children's early development.

Although the American Association of School Administrators does not endorse candidates, Executive Director Paul Houston notes that Bush is proposing a high school reform initiative including high school exit exams. "Our governing board voted not to support the 12th grade exit exam," Houston says. "Our kids don't need one more exam."

Kerry's teacher initiatives include a proposed tax credit for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, such as urban areas, which AASA proposed several years ago, Houston says.

But neither candidate is personalizing education. Using one assessment test to determine achievement is outdated, Houston says. "There is no plan from either party in terms of how to get schools personalized to kids," he says. "We'll never get to high achievement for all children if we're using a standardized approach.",

Angela Pascopella is features editor.

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