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Bush: 'Don't settle for mediocrity' in education

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush urged educators, parents and local and state officials Wednesday to work hard toward implementing the landmark education legislation he signed into law a day earlier.

"We have given new tools of reform to teachers and principals, local and state officials, and parents," Bush told an audience of 3,000 educators at Constitution Hall in Washington.

"Now we must finish the job. We have a great task to complete, and everyone has responsibilities to meet."

The new law -- dubbed the No Child Left Behind Act -- is a broad rewrite of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Following through on Bush's campaign pledge, it sets new accountability measures to help identify low-performing schools. It also provides $26.5 billion in federal spending on education, up $4 billion from the last fiscal year, and more than triples federal spending on reading programs.

In exchange for the new funds -- which some officials have complained are not sufficient -- the new law imposes conditions on states and local districts.

In particular, it requires state tests in reading and math for all students in grades three through eight starting in the 2004-2005 school year. The tests are intended to identify failing schools.

Schools whose students lag below proficiency standards would get additional aid. But if there is no progress after two years, parents would be able to transfer their children to other public schools, or be given funds to pay for tutors or other supplemental instruction.

The law calls for staff changes in schools with no improvement over six years and requires that all teachers must be qualified to teach in their subject areas within four years.

In his speech, Bush sought to inspire teachers and officials to devote their energies to ensure student success.

"All who have chosen the noble profession of teaching should know this: We are counting on your energy and your imagination to make these reforms real for America's children," he said. "You have our confidence and you'll have our support."

In exchange for added flexibility in deciding how they spend federal funds, states and local school districts, he said, also have added responsibilities.

After signing an education bill in a ceremony in Ohio, President Bush follows up with speeches in New Hampshire and Massachusetts (January 8)

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The new law, he noted, provides $400 million to help states design and administer the new tests.

"In return, we expect states to set standards of basic knowledge and to make steady progress toward meeting those standards," he said.

"The local and state officials in charge of America's schools carry a great trust and we really are counting on you all," Bush said.

"You are the rising generation of reformers. You can serve your community, and you can serve your country. Don't settle for mediocrity."

The president also had some words of advice for parents, urging them to get involved and support their children's schools, and to demand excellence.

Parents, he said, also bear responsibilities at home -- to make sure homework and studying get done, for example, and to ensure that children have good manners and respect for teachers.

"To be a mom or a dad is to be your child's first and most important teacher," he said.

"As parents, you're entitled to expect a lot from schools and teachers," he said. "And schools and teachers are entitled to expect some things from you as well."

Bush said the administration would begin immediately to assist states and local districts with implementing the new law.

Education Secretary Rod Paige was to meet Wednesday night with state education leaders to discuss plans on putting the changes to work, he said.




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