Your parents aren't the only ones who care about how well you do in school. George W. Bush and John F. Kerry say they do, too.

Most adults, in fact, are worried about America's public schools. Why? Kids aren't learning what they are supposed to -- and non-white students are doing especially poorly.

In kindergarten, white and black students pretty much know the same things, studies show. But by fourth grade, there's a big gap in the knowledge and vocabulary of the two groups.

Well, isn't it the teacher's job to make sure that all kids are learning what they need to know? That's a fair point, but since the government (through citizens' tax money) pays for public schools, the two men running for president want to make sure schools are doing a good job.

So, should the government spend more money to increase teacher salaries, to fix up run-down schools, to buy more books? That probably sounds like a good plan, but you know the problem with money: If you spend more on one thing (such as schools), you have less money to spend on other things (such as the military or health care).

So maybe -- before giving the schools more money -- the government should be like a tough parent and insist that teachers, principals and schools do a better job -- and measure how well they're doing by giving tests. That idea led to the No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for students to be tested in math and reading every year. The goal is for all kids in the country to do better in those subjects by 2014.

Two very different ways of attacking a tough problem. No wonder the debate over education sometimes seems like a playground fight.

* Pushed for and signed the No Child Left Behind Act, and says it has been a success. He has given states more time to meet some of the plan's rules. But he believes that lots of tests are a way of knowing how schools and students are doing. If schools don't make the grade, the law allows for "punishments," including letting students move to different schools.

* Supports vouchers, which means giving taxpayer money to families to help them send their children to private or religious schools. He says vouchers give poorer families options and that competition will make public schools better.

* Voted for No Child Left Behind in the Senate, but says Bush has given schools a lot less money than he promised, making it hard for schools to meet the law's goals. He says testing is good, but it's only one way to measure if a school is doing a good job. He wants to look at whether parents are happy with the school and whether kids are graduating. And he worries about turning schools into "testing factories."

* Would spend $30 billion over 10 years to improve teachers' pay.

* Opposes vouchers, saying they help too few students and that taxpayer dollars should not fund private schools.

The Back-and-Forth

Bush says Kerry is wrong about the money. The president's education spending plan calls for the government to spend a lot more money on education -- a 49 percent increase over 2001 levels. Kerry argues that because the law has so many rules calling for more tests and more paperwork, the extra money is not enough.

BUSH AND KERRY ON . . . EDUCATION