President Bush arranged to mark the first anniversary of his America 2000 education plan Thursday by making another plug for what critics denounce as a woefully inadequate initiative.
But hours before the self-proclaimed "education president" was to deliver an address at Dieruff High School in Allentown, Pa., the American Federation of Teachers union endorsed his likely Democratic challenger, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.Bush has billed his education initiatives as a way to revitalize American education. His proposal includes "merit schools," which give parents greater choice in selecting a school for their youngster and alternative teacher certification.
But the 800,000-member teachers' union president, Albert Shanker, called Bush's measures "cynical ploys" and said Clinton "represents the most thoughtful option out there to help change the country."
During a news conference at the White House last week, Bush, asked what his top priority would be in a second term, paused and then picked education.
"Achieving our goals for education by the year 2000," the president said.
These goals include making the nation's children No. 1 in the world in math and science and raising the high school graduation rate, now at about 70 percent, to at least 90 percent.
The president scheduled a brief visit in Allentown before going on to his summer estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he planned to spend the Easter weekend.
He is to return to the White House Monday following a stop in Columbus, Ohio, where he is to help the state capitol, named for Christopher Columbus, celebrate the 200th anniversary of the explorer's voyage to America.
Bush, with his approval rating down and the recession refusing to fade away, has tried in recent months to focus efforts on domestic matters, a top concern among voters.
In a visit to the Detroit area Tuesday, Bush tried to appeal to recession-weary workers by unveiling details of a modest job training program he announced in January.
Shanker ridiculed Bush for staging another promotion of his America 2000 program.
"This is just another photo-op," Shanker said in a telephone interview.
He said there are a "few pluses" in Bush's program, such as Congress creating a national board for education standards and assessments. But otherwise, he said, the program has been rife with hallow rhetoric and symbolic gestures.
"He ought to look at every one of his goals and see what role the federal government should have in obtaining it," Shanker said.