Bush targets vocational programs

Proposal would change curricula, expand testing

April 07, 2004|By Edwin Chen and Erika Hayasaki | Edwin Chen and Erika Hayasaki,LOS ANGELES TIMES

EL DORADO, Ark. - President Bush proposed new requirements yesterday for vocational training curricula and for science and math education that he said would help Americans acquire needed skills for jobs in the fast-changing economy.

"We want every citizen in this country to be able to get the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century. There are new jobs being created," the president said at the South Arkansas Community College.

Bush's appearance was part of a recent drive to highlight his efforts on job-creation - an issue that looms large in his reelection bid.

During an hour-long event that the White House billed as a "conversation" on job training and the economy, Bush pronounced the economy to be in solid recovery, citing in part Friday's Labor Department report that 308,000 jobs were created last month.

"This economy is strong and it is getting stronger," the president said. "And I intend to keep it that way through good policy."

Bush proposed that Congress revamp the major federal vocational education program, directing $1 billion of its annual funding into a new program that would require participating schools to offer four years of English, three years of math and science, and 3 1/2 years of social studies. Some states have adopted requirements less rigorous than Bush is proposing.

Bush also said he wanted to include high school seniors in the National Assessment of Education Progress examinations, which require participating states to test fourth- and eighth-graders every two years in reading and math. Testing 12th graders would allow educators to identify areas where students are not succeeding so that they can strengthen the curricula, the White House said.

A third prong of Bush's initiative would create a $100 million private-public partnership to provide $5,000 grants to about 20,000 low-income students to study math and science. The proposal requires approval by Congress.

Bush's call for tougher vocational education requirements would alter the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which distributes federal funds, mostly as grants, to state education agencies that are helping youth and adults move into fields that do not always require a baccalaureate or advanced degree.

Lee Murdock, who administers Perkins funds under the California Department of Education, worried that Bush's proposal would allow principals to spend money outside of vocational programs.

"Now it could go toward anything to serve economically disadvantaged kids," he said. "It's a particular concern with us."

Chen reported from El Dorado and Hayasaki from Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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