Bush to Obama: Education in Transition: As President George W. Bush Leaves Office with the No Child Left Behind Act as His Education Legacy, Advocates Look to the Obama Administration with High Expectations

By Branch-Brioso, Karen; Dervarics, Charles et al. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

Bush to Obama: Education in Transition: As President George W. Bush Leaves Office with the No Child Left Behind Act as His Education Legacy, Advocates Look to the Obama Administration with High Expectations


Branch-Brioso, Karen, Dervarics, Charles, Powell, Tracie, Roach, Ronald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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Education advocates Black, Brown and White--had high hopes when George W. Bush took office eight years ago announcing he would usher in a new era of compassionate conservatism.

President Bush's education legacy is inexorably tied to the No Child Left Behind Act, the comprehensive K-12 reform law he signed in January 2002. The law has drawn praise for requiring schools to show specific progress in educating minority and low-income children or face sanctions for failing to do so. But critics say the Bush administration failed to provide sufficient funding to support the laws goals. Some also contend that the law forces educators to rely too heavily on "teaching to the test."

What efforts Bush put into the country's colleges and universities, many experts say, were too little too late.

"When they introduced No Child Left Be hind, that was such a major change and kind of a shift altogether, and I think it took up a lot of the policy discussions on education" says Alisa Federico Cunningham, vice president of research and programs at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. "It's not that they didn't focus on higher education. I think other things were more important."

President Bush's legacy on education, particularly for underserved minorities, though tarnished, isn't all bad. His failures, however, may present opportunities for President-elect Barack Obama, who will face his own hurdles, education advocates say.

Bush steered more grant money to Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and appointed an African-American as secretary of education, Rod Paige, during his first term, the first of many diverse cabinet appointments. During his second term, Bush's secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, formed a Commission for the Future of Higher Education, which told many advocates much of what they already knew: that too many young people of color do not graduate from college because they are ill-prepared, can't afford tuition or don't know how to navigate the complex financial aid system.

Bush's accomplishments, however, will be overshadowed by his inability to deliver on bigger promises, such as signing comprehensive immigration reform into law. He also didn't live up to his word when it came to sending more money to financially strapped historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), advocates say.

"President Bush, after his campaign, promised that he was going to dramatically increase Title III finding for the HBCUs; [he] didn't do that at all," says William "Bud" Blakey, Washington counsel for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), an advocacy organization for public HBCUs that also raises money to help students pay college tuitions.

Bush's proposed 20 percent cut in tribal college funding last year did little to shore up his support among institutions serving American Indians. And one of the biggest issues Bush left undone is delivering on his promise to win approval for immigration reform. Such an accomplishment would have legalized millions of undocumented children of immigrants, so they would be eligible for a quality, yet affordable, college education.

By contrast, Obama says he wants to increase funding for tribal colleges and facility construction. That objective would seem to match nicely with goals of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, whose strategic plan calls for efforts to inform the new administration and Congress about tribal colleges. Elsewhere, Obama has cited the poor conditions of many Indian K-12 schools in making a commitment to repair some facilities and build new ones.

Obama has also included Asian Americans in his call for more bilingual education support. About 16 percent of adult Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders spoke English "not very well" or "not at all" in 2000, Obama's Web site notes. The president-elect's plan includes development of appropriate assessments for English Language Learners, a commitment to increase graduation rates of Limited English Proficient students and more support to help Asian parents get involved in their child's education even if the adults lack English language proficiency.

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