Sunday, July 31, 2005

Progress on the Home Front

After five years of partisan squabbling and Democratic obstruction, Congress, in the last few weeks, has finally done some good.

The energy bill provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks and other incentives to encourage new nuclear plants, cleaner-burning coal facilities, production of more oil and natural gas and of energy from wind and other renewable sources, investment in electrical transmission lines and to make homes and office buildings more efficient. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be considered later this year.

The $286 billion transportation bill was approved overwhelmingly by the House and the Senate.

Congress approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The president cast the accord in national security terms - as buoying the economic and political health of hemispheric neighbors.

Congress also voted to reauthorize portions of the USA Patriot Act, granting sweeping powers to authorities to combat terrorism.

The Senate scheduled hearings for Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts to begin Sept. 6.

On the education front, the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- also known as the national report card -- released good news on long-term educational trends in America. Reading competency for 9-year-olds has reached its highest level since NAEP began measuring progress in 1971.

What is more, the achievement gap is narrowing. The gap between black and white 9-year-olds was 44 points in 1971, down to 26 points in 2004, while the gap between white and Latino students narrowed from 34 points in 1975 to 21 points in 2004. Half the gap-narrowing has occurred since 1999.

Of course, educrats are scrambling to make sure that no credit goes to President Bush or his No Child Left Behind program. Look at any reform that has boosted student performance -- phonics, direct instruction, English immersion -- and the chances are, the educrats were against it. Bush packaged his approach under his promise to fight "the soft bigotry of low expectations." For years, educators blamed parents, demographics, money, you name it, for poor student performance.

Bush didn't want to hear the excuses -- and his Texas swagger paid off.

"He almost makes you believe in the power of positive thinking, because he has just never acknowledged that he's down," says Fred Greenstein, a presidential scholar at Princeton University.


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