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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2002

President visits Michigan school

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - President Bush toured classes at Vandenberg Elementary School yesterday and then heaped praise on its students and faculty for turning the school from one of the area's poorest performers into one of its best.

He touted the school as an example of what can happen when children and teachers from different backgrounds are held accountable for their work and said the school has embraced principles included in a federal education reform plan Mr. Bush signed into law in January.

“This is a successful school because there is a mindset that every child can learn,” the President said. “It is a school that obviously includes people from all backgrounds, but it is also a school that doesn't say that a certain kid is gonna be too hard to educate, let's kinda move him somewhere else, kinda put him on the sidecar to nowhere, which happens.”

Vandenberg Elementary is a public school in a racially mixed neighborhood just north of Detroit off 12 Mile Road. Four hundred students attend kindergarten through fifth grade there.

School Principal Sharalene Charns said the school has made big strides in recent years.

“From 1993 to 2001, Vandenberg students improved their state test scores by more than 74 percent in the areas of reading and math. At Vandenberg, we take full responsibility for student achievement and we make no excuses,” she said.

The school program is somewhat different from others in the Southfield public school district in that students attend classes through the end of June, then begin again early in August.

The education reform bill, passed with bipartisan support and signed into law during a ceremony in January at a school in Hamilton, Ohio, will result in so-called “report cards” being issued grading the performance of each public school district. Those ratings, to begin next year, will be based on results of student achievement tests. Among other things, the bill provides more federal money for reading programs for young students and to make schools safer.

Education Secretary Rodney Paige accompanied the President yesterday, and told the 200 people gathered in the gymnasium that taxpayers will soon know more about the return on their investment in public education.

“It's a new day in education across America,” Mr. Paige said. “President Bush has called upon this country to commit itself to a bold new idea, a goal of creating in our country an education system that calls on accountability of results, high teacher quality, reading programs that actually work, and a system of reporting so that taxpayers can know what they are getting for their money and parents can actually know how their children are doing.”

The President said school and teacher accountability is the key to success.

“This is a school that is not afraid to measure, a school that says, `We want to know,'” he said. “There are a lot of people in America who reject the notion of accountability of public education. I am not one. I want to know.

Mr. Bush said he anticipates some battles with those in America's education system who do not believe testing is as important to success as he believes.

“There are people who are afraid of accountability systems, and therefore I become suspicious,” the President said. “Because if you don't want to measure, it kinda makes me worried that maybe you're not confident about either your teacher quality or your curriculum. If you're afraid to be held accountable, something must be going wrong. That's how I view it.”

Mr. Bush's stop here is the first of three visits to key Midwestern states this week. He will travel to Milwaukee today, and will then end his week with a visit to Columbus on Friday.



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