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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 13:19 GMT
Extra tests in Bush school plan
George W Bush
George W Bush promised to raise school standards
Pupils in the United States are likely to face a much tougher regime of tests, under plans for schools being prepared by the incoming president, George W Bush.

But there is uncertainty over how the president elect might advance controversial proposals for "school vouchers" - with speculation divided over whether the administration will press ahead or postpone such a scheme.

Mr Bush's election campaign made the improvement of educational standards one of his flagship policies.

And it is expected that increases in testing and monitoring of progress will be a key theme in his education policy.

Testing and targets

In the United Kingdom, a policy of testing and targets has been credited as helping in the raising of standards in literacy and numeracy in primary schools.

In addition to exams for qualifications, pupils in the UK take national tests at the ages of 7, 11 and 14, with national targets set by the education department.

And in another echo of the standards drive in literacy and numeracy in the UK, Mr Bush is promising a $5bn "Reading First" programme to improve reading skills in the first years of school.

As well as more testing, the new administration is expected to allow individual states a greater flexibility in education policy, reversing the Democrats' emphasis on the importance of the federal education department.

But the timing and extent of any plan for school vouchers could be more problematic for the new president, who will be seeking some cross-party support for his education package.

Voucher tactics

School vouchers would allow parents to use public funds to pay for places in private schools - and it has been proposed as a way of providing an alternative to failing inner-city schools.

This has long been championed by radical right wingers as a way of introducing the free market into education.

But parents have shown little appetite for such an approach, with proposals for vouchers being heavily defeated in both California and Michigan in November.

And any education legislation including school vouchers would be likely to draw much fiercer opposition from Democrats than the less contentious measures on testing.

As such it has been suggested that Mr Bush will "de-couple" his education package, pushing ahead with the proposals on testing as soon as he enters office, while returning to school vouchers at a later date.

Another suggestion has been that the vouchers scheme could be broadened into a policy of allowing greater choice within state-sector schools, which could draw support from some Democrats.

But there have also been assertions that Mr Bush will push ahead with vouchers, focused on parents with pupils at repeatedly failing schools.

This would see federal funds withdrawn from failing schools and given to parents to spend on the education of their choice.

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See also:

08 Nov 00 | Education
School voucher schemes rejected
27 Sep 00 | Education
Bush attacks 'education recession'
27 Jul 00 | Education
Vote on biggest voucher plan
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