By JENNIFER FERMINO
Published: April 25, 2007
President Bush visited a Harlem charter school yesterday to praise it as one of the best in the nation, as well as to push for the extension of his No Child Left Behind plan.
“I appreciate you making a Texan feel right at home here in Harlem,” Bush said after visiting with students at the Harlem Village Academy, a school that has taken in underachieving students from public schools and turned them into stellar pupils.
“You know, it’s interesting,” Bush said. “One of the children said, ‘Why here, why did you come here, Mr. President? Of all the schools in the country, why this school?’
“And my answer is, because the president has an opportunity to herald excellence.”
One of the students he met was Anthonie Owen, 12, from Parkchester in The Bronx.
“It was exciting, because not too many people get to meet the president,” said Owen, who likes to draw comic-book characters.
Bush, who toured the building with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), said schools everywhere should follow the example of the Harlem Village Academy by working to raise test scores.
“What I like are schools that focus on results and then adjust the process,” he said. “I don’t see how you can solve problems unless you can measure problems.”
By almost any standard, the Harlem school measures up. This year, it topped all city charter schools, with 96 percent of seventh-graders passing the state math exam. Also, according to the tests, their math scores are in the top 6 percent of intermediate schools in the country. Their reading scores are in the top 23 percent.
Congress soon will review the No Child Left Behind legislation, first passed in 2002. It faces opposition from those who complain that the federal government is leaving state taxpayers to fund the bold ideas contained in a federal measure.
Others have said it harms kids by putting too much emphasis on testing.
Bush called that the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
“Congress shouldn’t weaken the bill. It’s working,” Bush said.
“If you’re a parent, you should insist that the No Child Left Behind Act remain a strong accountability tool so that every child in this country gets a good education,” added Bush, who is expected to compromise with Democratic legislatures who want looser rules on how schools are graded.
Rangel, who has disagreed with Bush on major issues such as the Iraq war, said he would work with the president to pass the bill.
“[The program] is not adequately funded,” said Rangel. “That’s what we have to be concerned about.”
Bush, meanwhile, stayed longer at the Harlem school than expected because he made a point to visit each of the eight classrooms.
“I was honored to be in his presence and I was glad to shake his hand,” said sixth-grader Amber Price, who said she was surprised to find the president joking with her and her classmates. “I thought he’d be a little more serious because he is the president.”