http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.hts/editorial/outlook/2038779 Aug. 10, 2003, 8:20PM Leave No Child Behind means make 'em vanish By BILL MAHER New_rule: Stop believing slogans, especially the ones that come out of the White House. Slogans are not policy, and they're not truth. Twinkies aren't wholesome goodness, and The Clear Skies Initiative isn't really going to bring clear skies. And, it turns out, the Leave No Child Behind law actually leaves lots of children behind. So many, they even have a name now: pushouts, as in were pushing you out of school so that our cumulative test scores will be higher. Yes, that's what this is all about. Our Leave No Child Behind law is written like this: As a state, you get federal money for your schools, but only when you make a few things happen, mainly get test scores to go up and dropout rates to go down. How best to achieve both of those goals? By making the dumber kids disappear! The program President Bush brags about in Houston was all about raising test scores by making almost the entire bottom half of the class drop out, and then lowering the dropout rate by putting those dropouts in phony categories like transferred or enrolled in general equivalency diploma, or GED, classes. Sure, it was a little suspicious the way the testing system seemed to funnel so much money to old Bush friends McGraw Hill, but what can you do? You can't make an omelet without making a few people rich. What mattered was, it worked. Except it didn't. We weren't really improving the system, but we were improving it where it matters: on paper. It's not for nothing that all Texans looked up to Enron. When Bush ran in 2000, Houston's dropout rate was given as 1.5 percent. It's been revised to 40 percent. Probably by the same guy who does the budget. Enron was gaming the energy futures; here it was the kids' futures. Not that every kid should go to college; I've always believed every kid should not. But every kid should finish high school, and if you call your law No Child Left Behind, it does take a special kind of Texas-size nerve to then treat those children like cards in a gin rummy hand, where you get to ditch the two low ones, and where bodies just disappear like dissidents in Argentina, or that Julia Louise Dreyfuss sitcom. No child means none, and I don't need a degree in fuzzy math to know that 40 percent is not none. Are inner-city schools tough, with high dropout rates? Yes, but again, when you say no child, the implication is that were going after the section of kids who are harder to reach. And who can be reached, as we've learned from scores of movies about impossible high schools where one really dedicated actor, I mean teacher, makes a huge difference and gets the kids to dig Shakespeare. George W. Bush ran for office as the education guy, as the Sidney Poitier or Edward James Olmos or Michelle Pfeiffer character, I mean candidate, and his caring about leaving no child behind is what softened him into a compassionate conservative. So it does seem wrong when we find out that were doing, apparently, is just handling lots of kids a GED kit. Our president has made speeches in which he chuckles at himself for being a C student at Yale University. Of course, given who his father was, he could afford to chuckle at it; falling behind would not really keep him behind. But the rest of us aren't so fortunate. And as no one could tell you better than George W. Bush, we don't all blossom early in life, so maybe writing off so many kids at 15 or 17 isn't such a wise policy. It might amuse the president to know that this is exactly what they do in his favorite country, France, but the French don't lie about it and sell it as leaving no child behind, and France has more of a social safety net than we do. We have one, but it's called prison. People say education is the cornerstone of our democracy -- they're wrong, of course, it's campaign cash, and lots of it. But shouldn't it still count for something? As the president himself might say, we can do gooder.