Bush's End Days

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 9, 2009; 12:01 PM

The "sprint to the finish," such as it was, is definitely over. Each day of the Bush presidency -- and there are only 11 left -- brings a growing sense of closure.

Dave Cook writes for the Christian Science Monitor: "On Thursday, Mr. Bush flew to the General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia to deliver what he said was 'my last policy speech as president of the United States.' It was a full-throated defense of the No Child Left Behind law that requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Bush signed the law seven years ago Jan. 8, after marshaling bipartisan support for it. The measure 'has forever changed America's school systems,' he argued.

"The flight to Philly also had a poignant end-of-an-era feel -- or an almost-end feel -- to it. Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel told members of the media traveling with the president that the 23-minute trip would be the next-to-last scheduled flight Bush would take on Air Force One as president. While waiting for the president to get on and off the plane, Bush administration staffers posed for pictures in front of the sparkling blue 747."

Dan Eggen and Maria Glod write in The Washington Post: "With less than two weeks left in office, the address marked Bush's last formal attempt to burnish a political legacy tarnished by two intractable wars, Hurricane Katrina and the devastating financial collapse of recent months. In a series of recent speeches and selected broadcast interviews, Bush and his senior aides have sought to argue that his presidency was in fact successful on a wide range of fronts, from nuclear proliferation to trade to education.

"With No Child Left Behind, Bush clearly left his mark. Passed with bipartisan support and signed into law seven years ago yesterday, it marked an unprecedented federal foray into locally controlled public schools and transformed the education system for teachers, administrators and nearly 50 million public school children.

"The law, which requires states to rate schools based on annual testing, aims to boost the achievement of students from poor families. With the objective of having every child master grade-level reading and math by 2014, schools must meet steadily rising test-score goals or risk sanctions.

"The Bush administration says the improvements have been widespread, including narrowed achievement gaps between black and white students; record high math scores among African American and Hispanic students; and significant increases in reading and math proficiency among many students. . . .

"But many educators and lawmakers have soured on the law's details, complaining about the quality of tests, the 'pass-fail' system of judging schools, and a focus on reading and math that some say neglects history, the arts and music. Teachers unions and some school officials say the law is too rigid and punitive, and argue that schools need more federal dollars. Some Republicans say the federal role in schools is too intrusive.

"Efforts to overhaul No Child Left Behind fell apart last year as Congress awaited the new administration. Obama has said the law's goals were admirable, but he has vowed to 'fix the failures' and add funding. He has also pledged to improve testing and to create a more nuanced system for judging schools."

Bush yesterday also offered a fixed-up variation on one of his most famous Bushisms. Back on the campaign trail in 2000, Bush said: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" Yesterday, he had this to say: "Rarely was the question asked: Can you read? Or can you write? Or can you add and can you subtract?"

Technically, of course, that's more than one question.

Bush's Parting Gift

Howard Schneider writes in The Washington Post: "The U.S. economy shed 524,000 jobs in December, pushing the unemployment rate to 7.2 percent and completing a year of declining employment that rivals the country's steepest recessions.

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