George W. Bush’s plan to teach every child how to read by the third grade is unquestionably the right thing to do. So how come he’s gotten such mixed reviews? (“We’ve had a hard time,” admits a Bush staffer.) The answer, like much of politics these days, is in the packaging. Which sounds better? Plan A: End social promotion, hold schools and teachers accountable for kids who can’t read, and leave the question of how to teach reading up to school districts. Plan B: Teach every kid to read, pay teachers $150 a day to get trained in the most effective teaching methods, and earmark $203 million in grants for remedial reading academies and teacher training. Both plans are part of Bush’s overall program, but Plan A is negative, Plan B is positive—and the public thinks Bush is pushing Plan A only. As a result, the education community is split over Bush’s proposal, and Garry Mauro, his Democratic opponent, was able to make headlines by tallying the number of kids who would fail (of course, many eventually fail or drop out now). Bush’s plan will pass the Legislature, no doubt, but Texas is not the only field he’s interested in playing on. In the big leagues of presidential politics, the packaging will have to be better.
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