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Wake goals: Help teachers, close gap

Some 800 of us--parents and teachers and principals and others with the morning free--packed the hall last week for "Many Voices, Smart Choices," Wake County's 2003 Education Summit. A record turnout for a system under tremendous pressures as this fall's school board elections near. Diversity? Neighborhood schools? Huge issues. And then there was Goal 2003: Get 95 percent of the county's public school kids performing at or above grade level by now.

How're we doing?

We're hovering in the high 80s, mainly, as measured by the state's end-of-grade tests in reading and math. Quite good, well above the competition, etc. But not at 95 percent. Bill McNeal, Wake's African-American school superintendent ("cool as Shaft, with the heart of a teacher," said Orage Quarles III, The News & Observer's publisher, who introduced him), pointed directly to the problem. The goal was met for white kids, he said. Minority kids, though on the upswing, still lag. "Closing the achievement gap is our biggest challenge."

Of course, McNeal said, Wake's schools have many objectives, but the fact of one central, overriding Goal, understood by all, helps focus the mind(s) in a system of more than 100,000 students. So, in due course, we were asked to help determine the new Goal.

Table-by-table discussions ensued, and many tables, apparently, were like mine: Improving the lot of teachers, and retaining more of the best ones, emerged as the top "Voices and Choices: Theme" out of eight possibilities presented to us. (Those of you who've taken part in facilitated groups will recognize the drill. This was the last stage in a process that involved 100 community meetings and 1,800 people in all--your school system is firing on all public relations cylinders, as it must.)

Good teachers are the means, but student achievement is the end, is it not? If Goal 2003 worked so well, why not make it, now, Goal 2006?

And close the gap.


One for Carrington. In the state Senate, in favor of the long-sought death penalty moratorium: All five Democratic senators from the Triangle (Reeves, Malone, Gulley, Lucas, Kinnaird) and one Republican: John Carrington, R-Wake. (But not Sen. Richard Stevens, the other Wake Republican.)

Yes, John Carrington, the silent senator, voted yes. We've never had anything good to say about him in his eight-plus years in office. Here's our first: Thank you, Sen. Carrington.

Now, on to the House.


Bennett's hypocrisy can't touch W's. Admit it. It was delicious to see smug William Bennett, the conservative virtue czar, hoisted on his habit of late-night casino-going. In "The Bookie of Virtue," Washington Monthly editor Joshua Green reported that Bennett has lost millions of dollars playing the slots and video poker in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Shocking, coming from the author of The Book of Virtues, Bennett's how-to guide to moral education for the young. Chapter 1: Self-discipline. ("It lies at the heart of the task of successful everyday behavior, whether it is controlling our tempers, or our appetites. ... 'Oh, if only I had stopped myself' is an all too familiar refrain.")

But this is shooting fish in a barrel. Bennett is a hypocrite, certainly. But his gambling, if you can call it that when you're just throwing your money away, is his business. It's legal, and if his wife can put up with it (shades of Hillary Clinton), what do we care?

True, Bennett, in The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Values, slammed the idea "that private character has no impact on governing character." In America, he huffed, "morality is central to our politics and attitudes in a way that is not the case in Europe, and precisely this moral streak is what is best about us."

But Bennett was wrong, except to the extent that someone's personal immorality--for example, an inability to tell the truth--taints the actual performance of his public duties. Bill Bennett, meet George W. Bush.

For outrageous hypocrisy, it's hard to top Bush, in full flight-suit garb, taking the co-pilot's seat of a Navy fighter jet en route to his photo- op on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.

Bush wants "credit" for the Iraq invasion. Fine. (Take it now, W.) But the message of the flight suit was that Bush is no mere commander-in-chief, but rather is a brave warrior himself, and a veteran jet pilot, too, just like his daddy. Only it isn't true.

Bush avoided military service in Vietnam by gaining entry to the Texas Air National Guard, which, back in '68--this wouldn't be true any more--let him learn to fly, only to require no flying of him (or anything else) while he worked on a Senate campaign in Alabama. William Rivers Pitt got it right in an article you can read at Either Bush is delusional or utterly without shame.

At least Bennett, once outed, said he wasn't going to gamble any more.

The shameless misrepresentations of the Bush administration, though, from trashing the environment in the name of conservation to cutting taxes for the rich in the name of job-creation, not to mention the phony intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, just keep rollin' on.


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