A `C' For Bush's Education Package

PRESIDENT BUSH'S education initiatives are fine, as far as they go. Cash awards for excellent schools and teachers emphasize that performance counts. Magnet schools have proven themselves valuable. And urban schools need better antidrug programs. Taken as a whole, however, the Bush package hardly seems the kind of powerful leadership expected of a self-proclaimed ``education president.''

For example, urban schools. Ways will have to be found to increase funding for nutrition and preschool programs that help kids succeed in the earliest classroom years. Smaller schools and classes are needed to give these children crucial individual attention. Counseling and guidance must be expanded. And students have to be shown the connection between their studies, the health of their communities, and their future work life.

Washington can't do all this, of course. But it can certainly help set a national tone.

Take another area, teaching. Salaries have gotten better in recent years. But many teachers still lack control over their work, as well as opportunities to strengthen that work. Federal money could germinate institutes and fellowships to provide research, travel, and other enrichment programs for teachers. It's fine to recognize outstanding teachers, but it's better to help them share their professional insights with their colleagues. That kind of effort could be given a federal push, as could programs to steer top students toward careers in teaching.

Other bedrock educational issues need a presidential nudge too. Performance is a current theme, but there's little consensus on how it should be evaluated. Are the multitude of standardized tests adequate? What about substantial writing projects for all high-school graduates, as some reformers have urged?

It's still early in the Bush years, however. He will have plenty of opportunities to strengthen his credentials and boost his grade.

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