This week was the occasion (as our Web site, www.memphisflyer.com, was first to report) for a visit to Tennessee by President George W. Bush, whose intent was to focus attention on the details of his education plan, one which stresses educational testing and a series of incentives as a means of improving student performance.
Accordingly, the president selected the venue of Townsend Elementary School in Blount County. This is a school where low-income students and high recent test scores happen to intersect, and thus Bush thought it appropriate as a place to proclaim the gospel of his results-oriented approach.
We happened to favor the somewhat more expensive and conventional approach of Bush's recent election opponent, former Vice President Al Gore, and we remain distrustful of all those polemicists who like to dump venom on the nation's teachers' unions, most of whom supported Gore over Bush. These organized teachers may constitute an entrenched lobby, as their critics claimed, but we remain convinced that their hearts are in the right place.
Even so, there is something to be said for "thinking out of the box," as the current phrase has it. And Bush's plan, to its credit, does not commit the sin, common to many "conservative" plans, of substituting rhetoric for bona fide fiscal supports. The administration is prepared to commit more funds than have heretofore been available to most school districts, and we have no knee-jerk opposition to the plan's emphasis on maximizing local control or its application of the carrot-and-stick approach to matters of future funding and teacher rewards.
We are pleased, too, at intimations coming from Washington that the controversial "school voucher" component of the Bush plan has been dropped. We can only hope so. It is simply wrong, however well-intended, to take taxpayers' money and route it out by whatever formula to private institutions, some of them highly sectarian.
On balance, we are prepared to reserve judgment on the Bush plan, a stance which is in part just good fatalistic sense. For, like it or not, the plan -- or something like it -- is on the way. And who knows? Maybe it will marry well with the educational reforms Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist is proposing.
Reserving Judgment II
Questions about the XFL are as plentiful today as they were when the gaudy new football league, co-owned by NBC and the World Wrestling Federation, first announced it would make Memphis one of its eight charter members. After three weeks, the TV ratings have settled down to the low expectations that the league itself had before getting the first week's unexpectedly good viewer totals.
Memphis Maniax general manager Steve Ehrhart tried to stem the tide of bad press this week, issuing a press release proclaiming Memphis as the "number one" UPN market. He spun reporters at the team's weekly press conference to the effect that things are better than the national media make them out to be, that the Memphis TV market in particular is doing better than expected, and that the two local games drew well, especially considering the weather.
The jury is still out on the Memphis Maniax and the Xtreme Football League. But the combination of NBC's bucks and the WWF's chutzpah could give the league real staying power -- a la the old AFL and the current MSNBC, two similarly endowed hybrids. Here, too, we'll reserve judgment.