President Bush, acknowledging public frustration over his No Child Left Behind Act, said Thursday the point of the law is not to punish schools that fall short, but to help them.
Bush suggested the White House and its allies must do a better job of explaining the goal of holding schools accountable.
Congress is working on renewing the law, which remains unpopular in many districts nationwide.
“It is important for all of us to make it clear that accountability is not a way to punish anybody,” Bush told supporters of the law in a meeting at the White House. “It’s an essential component to making sure that our system, our education system, frankly is not discriminatory.”
Bush got unified support from the group of business, education and civil rights leaders he invited to the Roosevelt Room. They spoke of economic competitiveness and social justice.
But even his friendly audience pointed out flaws in the law.
The most common concern was that some statesfree to determine their own academic standardsare manipulating the law by setting the bar too low for students.
“There have been some states that have been attempting to skirt the act by, in effect, dumbing down their curriculum,” said Paul Vallas, CEO of the Philadelphia School District.
No Child Left Behind, approved by Congress early in Bush’s first term, is the biggest federal act in a generation. Politically, it is also vital to Bush’s agenda and his legacy.
Schools that receive federal aid face sanctions if they don’t show yearly progress among their students, including poor children, minorities and limited-English learners.