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As Bush Re-Focuses National Attention On Homeland Security, Schools Across the Country Face Budget Cuts, High-Stakes Testing, and Privatization

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    A front-page article in today’s Christian Science Monitor begins:

    “Just when Washington’s political life seemed to be returning to normal, the war on terrorism has returned with a vengeance, reclaiming its position as the overwhelming concern of the nation’s capital.

    “For a time… Democrats had begun to focus again on issues they felt might turn to their advantage in the fall elections, such as Social Security and the cost of prescription drugs. President Bush resumed doing what presidents do as off-year votes loom–make quick trips to the hinterland to raise cash, support candidates, and promote his education policies and other items on the domestic agenda.

    “Then President Bush proposed the establishment of a new Department of Homeland Security–a mammoth undertaking which could preoccupy Congress for months. The administration announced the arrest of a man accused of plotting to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb” in America–reemphasizing the stakes in the continuing struggle against Al Qaeda.

    “Whatever the reasons for the timing of the White House moves, one of their effects is a change in Washington’s–indeed, the nation’s–political conversation, back to issues on which the administration is on solid ground with the public.”But as the Bush administration turns the national discussion again to homeland security and seeks ever higher amounts of money to fund the so-called war on terrorism and new multi-billion dollar weapons systems, the man that ran his election campaign as the “education president” seems to be abandoning one of the most basic ways of ensuring a safe and secure country: a well-educated population.

    The current issue of Education Week is reporting school districts all over the country are struggling just to fill the gaps left by leaner state budgets. Last week, some 20,000 young people rallied outside New York’s City Hall to denounce Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed cuts in the city’s school funding.

    Meanwhile, a standardized testing wave is sweeping the nation. Critics say politicians may be able to make test scores look good on paper, but standardized testing actually increases drop-out rates and forces teachers to “teach to the test” rather than encouraging critical thinking. Last week, an ad-hoc group of educational and free speech organizations revealed the New York State education department was using censored passages in exams, taking all out references to race, ethnicity, and gender.

    School privatization is also an issue: Edison Schools announced last week it will borrow $40 million to finance its takeover of 20 struggling public schools in Philadelphia. Edison’s privatization of Philadelphia’s public schools is the largest and most ambitious experiment in the history of school privatization.

    Today, we’ll have a roundtable discussion on issues affecting schools across the country.


    • Ann Cook, co-chair, New York Performance Standards Consortium, a coalition of 32 high schools across the state which use performance assessment in lieu of high stakes testing. She is also the co-director of a New York City public high school (and parent of three children who graduated from New York City public schools).
    • Adam Tucker, spokesperson for Edison Schools.
    • Ashley Smith, high school student with the Philadelphia Student Union. She is seventeen years old. She attends Chester High, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, which is run by Edison. She transferred in March from a city school.

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