Patty Henry’s second-graders at Lowell Elementary School in Mesa have a support network for reading that stretches to the White House.
Each morning, Henry delivers two hours of uninterrupted reading instruction based on the latest literacy research. Students who struggle with specific concepts — such as reading words with a silent "e" — receive tailored instruction in small groups later in the day with a campus interventionist.
A full-time reading coach at Lowell trains and supports the teachers, and phonics experts at the state Department of Education train the reading coach in workshops about twice a month. State trainers receive support from the U.S. Department of Education, which is overseen by the White House.
To pay for the program, Lowell uses a Reading First grant created as part of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which he guided through Congress early in his term.
Besides programs such as Reading First, the 1,184-page No Child Left Behind package requires schools to provide a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom and to meet federal standards in reading and math within every demographic subgroup.
Overall in the East Valley, six Mesa schools and five in Tempe receive Reading First grants worth about $200,000 per year per school.
Mesa Unified School District assistant superintendent Jane McGee Rafal said Reading First has produced significant results, but she worries about the young readers the grants do not reach.
"It begs the question," she said. "What do we do with the other 52 schools? "
Democratic candidate John Kerry will likely raise similar questions about No Child L eft Behind on Wednesday during the final presidential debate in Tempe.
Although federal spending on education has climbed to record levels under Bush, Kerry says the president has left No Child Left Behind about $27 billion below the funding levels that he promised when Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, voted for the bill in the Senate.
John Wright, president of the Arizona chapter of the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers union — said Bush sets up Arizona students for failure when he creates federal mandates under No Child Left Behind and then fails to provide all of the funding that schools would need to succeed.
He also said too much of the money that Bush budgets for education goes toward monitoring and assessing schools rather than toward education.
"George Bush showcases failure," Wright said. "John Kerry wants public schools to succeed."
Both the National Education Association and its Arizona chapter endorsed Kerry for president this summer.
For Tempe charter school operator David Batchelder, the union endorsements of Kerry serve as a red flag for advocates of parental choice.
"I would say President Bush is likely a better advocate of school choice, based on Kerry’s endorsement by the NEA," said Batchelder, who operates James Madison Preparatory School.
Vicki Murray, education analyst at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, agreed that Bush has been the stronger supporter of parental choice. She said Kerry voted against a school voucher plan in January for Washington, D.C., families that ultimately passed.
Murray also said the November election will have little impact on education reform in Arizona — and progress will continue in the state no matter who becomes president. "It’s Arizona parents, and Arizonans, who are shaking things up," she said.
Vision for public education
• Move forward with the No Child Left Behind law.
• Extend state tests in grades third through 11th in reading and math. Require all 12th-graders to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
• Improve early childhood education through the Healthy Start, Grow Smart program.
• Expand loan forgiveness for teachers and create incentives to lure more professionals into the classroom.
• Increase financial aid to help more students afford college.
• Fix the No Child Left Behind law and fully fund all of the law’s mandates through a National Education Trust Fund.
• Increase rewards for teachers and schools that meet high standards or show improvement.
• Provide better training and better pay for teachers at troubled schools.
• Expand after-school opportunities through the "School’s Open ’Til Six" initiative.
• Create a tax credit on up to $4,000 of college tuition per year.