No Children Left Behind -- Unless They're Poor

January 25, 2005

How short-sighted can this administration be?

Answer: terribly and tragically.

In the 2006 federal budget he will release in early February, President Bush is expected to propose killing off two programs, Upward Bound and Talent Search, that have helped millions of disadvantaged students prepare for college. This makes no long-term economic sense.

More than 1,400 Upward Bound and Talent Search programs in communities and on college campuses across the country help about 450,000 middle and high school students from poor families set their sights on higher education. Upward Bound also serves about 5,000 veterans, supporting their needs for postsecondary education and retraining after military service.

These programs help at-risk participants become productive members of society. After all, education is the ticket to economic success in this country. Upward Bound and Talent Search alumni include members of Congress, judges, doctors, corporate leaders and college administrators. We measure our success student by student, taxpayer by taxpayer.

The administration says these programs have been ineffective, but its efforts to measure their value have been highly flawed. An Office of Management and Budget review of Upward Bound, for example, penalized the program because the U.S. Department of Education was and is behind schedule in analyzing the data submitted by Upward Bound programs. You need timely data to determine whether or not the students we serve went on to college. Without it, you have mush.

But the administration does not seem motivated to conduct or commission fair analyses of TRIO programs. Instead, the goal is to eliminate Upward Bound and Talent Search and redirect the funding to expand the President's No Child Left Behind initiative to high schools.

Of course we applaud the desire to improve high school education for all. But can we assume that instituting national standards and testing for every American high school will be an adequate substitute for one-on-one academic support and counseling for our most disadvantaged students? Not likely.

Is it rational or reasonable to fund a broad-based initiative to enhance high school teaching and learning on the backs of our neediest, least-prepared students? Absolutely not.

To eliminate two programs serving students from families with annual incomes of under $28,000 smacks of short-term political gain and long-term economic pain. It is our most fervent hope that Congressional Republicans and Democrats will see through this political sleight of hand.

Over the next few months, my organization, the Council for Opportunity In Education, and other advocates for the programs will take our case to Congress. Our political representatives in Washington will hear from students like Bani Pineda of East Los Angeles and Kiesha Shelton of Fort Worth, Tex. "Talent Search has given me the tools to realize my dream," says Bani. Upward Bound "helped me unquestionably defy the odds," says Keisha.

Upward Bound and Talent Search have helped generations of middle and high school students like Keisha and Bani prepare for, obtain admission to and enroll in college or other postsecondary education. I call on college and K-12 educational leaders across the country to acknowledge the contributions of these programs and to help us stave off their elimination.


Arnold L. Mitchem is president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, which lobbies on behalf of the TRIO programs for low-income students, including Upward Bound and Talent Search.

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