PHILADELPHIA—Delivering one final policy speech, President George W. Bush defended his signature education law on Thursday and warned that it should not be weakened when he leaves office because it has “forever changed America’s school systems.”
PHILADELPHIA—Delivering one final policy speech, President George W. Bush defended his signature education law on Thursday and warned that it should not be weakened when he leaves office because it has "forever changed America’s school systems." "Now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability," Bush said in a message aimed at both the Democratic Congress and President-elect Barack Obama. The law, which Bush signed into law exactly seven years ago, requires annual testing in many grades and calls for all students to reach grade level in reading and math by 2014. It also is designed to give parents more school choices and increase teacher quality. Critics consider it intrusive, narrow and lacking in funding. The law was Bush’s first major domestic success, approved with strong bipartisan support in 2001. He considers it essential to the country — and a vital part of his legacy. Bush called on those who control its fate "to stay strong in the face of criticism" and warned if they weaken the law, they risk "weakening the chance for a child to succeed." Obama has pledged to overhaul the law. The testing requirements at the heart of it will likely remain, although Obama says the law emphasizes exams at the expense of subjects, such as music and art, and is too punitive toward struggling schools. Congress was supposed to renew the law after five years, in 2007, but did not. It remains in effect but is unpopular in many communities. Some parents speak up in favor of it though because it has given their children more choices of school and tutoring. "No Child Left Behind is working for all kinds of students in all kinds of schools in every part of the country," Bush declared. "That is a fact." In general, students have made gains in reading and math under the law, particularly lower-achieving minority students who are now getting unprecedented attention. But kids remain a long way off from reaching the law’s ambitious goals; millions of children are behind. Undeterred, Bush said the country will "absolutely" meet its goals. He spoke most strongly about keeping the law’s testing requirements and dismissed the criticism that teachers are forced to "teach to the test" at the expense of true learning. The president said his comments amounted to the final policy speech of his presidency. Earlier, Bush stopped by a second-grade classroom, where students gave him a bouquet of flowers. They were quiet and shy but accepted his offer to ask him some questions. One student asked Bush about where he’s going to live next. The president said he is relying on his wife’s judgment about their new house in Texas for good reason: he has never seen it himself. "That’s called faith," Bush said. The president leaves office Jan. 20. He and first lady Laura Bush will split their time between a home they recently purchased in Dallas and their ranch in Crawford, Texas. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.