WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- President Bush challenged America's educators and parents Wednesday to turn a just-approved education program into a "new and hopeful era for American education," one in which every child develops skills to succeed.
The president, speaking in Washington, said more power and responsibility has been put into the hands of parents and local and state school officials for educating the nation's youth and in how federal funds are spent to do it.
But now, Bush said, they must do their part.
"This is an hour of promise for America's public schools. My signature is now on the law, but it was the work of many hands. Together we have overcome old arguments and outdated policies. And now, together, let us see these changes through until every school succeeds and no child is left behind.
"In return for this commitment, my administration and the American people expect results. We expect every child to learn basic skills. We expect failing schools to be turned around. We expect teachers and principals to do their jobs well, to have a firm grasp on their subject matter, and to welcome measurement and accountability," Bush said.
Parents must become more involved in the education of their children, he said.
"Parents need to pay attention to school performance. They should insist on results and, when necessary, they must be strong advocates for change. They should offer praise, when they can, and pressure when it's called for.
"If you're a parent, visit your child's school. Get to know the teachers and principals. Support the school, and demand excellence. And remember that every child should come to school ready to learn. Good manners and respect for teachers are learned at home. Good study habits are reinforced by mothers and fathers who are willing to switch off the TV set and turn off video games to make sure the homework gets done."
The No Child Left Behind Act, signed by Bush Tuesday, requires testing of students nationwide in grades 3-8 in math, reading, and, later, science. It increases government funding for education but also allows schools to best determine how much of the money is spent to improve student performance.
Results of testing will be available to parents and can be compared with other local schools and schools elsewhere in the state. Schools that fail to improve student test scores will at first be eligible for extra help, but continued failure could result in restaffing. Children in failing schools, meanwhile, would be able to use tutors or transfer to another institution.
Bush, speaking before educators, elementary school children and government officials in the Constitution Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said the law allows for $22 billion in education funding this year -- a 125 percent increase. In addition, Title I funds for economically disadvantaged children will increase, as well as funding for teacher education.
The government also plans to spend about $400 million to help states design and administer the student achievement tests.
"Do not settle for mediocrity," Bush told teachers in the audience. "Accept no excuses. Set high goals. And raise them again. And keep raising the standards. That is the task of leadership, and we trust you to take it on."
Bush's speech was like preaching to the converted.
"I think it (the education law) is excellent," said Peggy Miller, personnel director and math/science curriculum director of the Morgan County School System in West Virginia. "We're going to give tests ahead of time to measure where students are (in their skills). Teaching is one of the few professions in which you usually start the first day without knowing what you have.
"Also, it gives us more flexibility in how to spend the money, without the government telling us," Miller said.