The numbers are bleak and -- for anyone who cares about the vibrancy of the American economy or the importance of an educated citizenry -- deeply worrisome: the United States has fallen to 17th in the world in high school graduation rates and 7th in college-going rates, and is the only industrialized country whose rates are falling.
And perhaps most troubling of all, the rates are lowest among those segments of the American populace that are growing the fastest.
There is no such thing as an offhanded comment from a White House spokesman.
So when Trent Duffy, in explaining Friday that President Bush would seek to bolster the Pell Grant program in part by reducing the subsidies paid to lenders in the student-loan program, called the subsidies "excessive" and described the loan industry as "very profitable," the political winds surrounding the student-loan programs continued to shift.
Perhaps only in the superheated atmosphere of the current conflict over the U.S. Senate's confirmation of judges could a hearing about illegal bombings and arson by animal rights groups turn into a partisan affair.