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Gore Spends Day in Class, Raising Cash

Politics: Democratic ticket stumps in Ohio schools, touting education reforms. Vice president later attends fund-raising concert by Cher.


CINCINNATI — Al Gore and Joseph I. Lieberman bounced across the southwest corner of Ohio on Tuesday in two yellow school buses, talking about education and working on some political math of their own--the kind involving fund-raising and electoral votes.

The tour took them through one of the most crucial states in the presidential election--and, like tonight in Boston and Thursday evening in New York, ended at a Democratic National Committee fund-raising gala.

The day offered a slice of political life, 2000: The candidates sought to keep a public focus on an issue they think resonates with voters across the country--education--while coursing through towns small enough to generate local enthusiasm for the presidential ticket in a state that offers 21 electoral votes, nearly 10% of the number needed to win in November.

And there was the bottom line of the day: a concert in Camden, N.J., across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, attended by Vice President Gore and headlined by Cher. It was one of three events expected, by week's end, to raise the party $8 million.

There could not have been a greater contrast from day to night, from the hometown feel of a conversation on the narrow, vinyl seats of the school bus to the glitter, even in gritty Camden, of the Cher-led extravaganza with Michael Bolton.

But most of the day was devoted to education. In a question-and-answer session with about 25 students, parents and teachers in Room 207 at Anna K. Wantz Middle School in Miamisburg, Ohio, his first stop, Gore offered a lengthy discourse on one of the most controversial elements in education this year: the role of tests.

Politicians have clamored for tests as a method to measure performance; "accountability" has become a buzzword to suggest a readiness to get tough on schools that have failed to improve test scores.

His shirt damp from sweat, the vice president said that the Democratic and Republican tickets agree on local control of schools and on the need for "accountability."

"The difference is, the plan Joe Lieberman and I are putting out starts with accountability but doesn't end there," he said.

George W. Bush's proposed tax cuts "would take away the chance we have now to lift up our schools," Gore added, placing education as his budget priority.

Gore and Texas Gov. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, have offered education proposals that differ in both dollars and emphasis.

Bush has proposed spending $47 billion over 10 years, devoting the money to literacy programs, college scholarships and grants, and rewards to states that improve pupil achievement based on increased testing. He would cut funds to states where student performance lags and provide tax savings for up to $5,000 put aside by parents for education expenses.

Gore would spend $170 billion over 10 years, offering raises for teachers in poor and rural areas and for "master teachers," money to recruit new teachers, tax breaks for college savings and expenses, after-school care, and school construction. He would require states to use national sampling tests to monitor performance and close schools that fail to meet standards, reopening them under new leadership.

Bush would use federal money to help parents pay for private schools under certain conditions; Gore would not.

While testing has been misused at times, Gore said, "it can play and must play a valuable role if it is used properly."

"There's a trade-off here," he said in response to one student's question. "If you want to get more out of the schools, you have to measure the performance. . . . You study harder because you know you're going to have a test in the course. And when there is a testing program that can give a fair measure of how a school is doing, that can be a great stimulus to do better on the part of the school, and that is needed.

"But the problem is that if you just teach to pass the test, and the kids are made to believe that their performance on that test is going to shape their whole lives, then, yeah, that's wrong. It should be only one way to measure how the school is doing, and the proper way to use testing is to make sure that the test adequately measures not just preparing for the test but adequately measures how the whole curriculum is being taught."

But how, one teacher wanted to know, would she and her colleagues be held accountable? It is a sensitive subject among educators and a delicate one for Gore, who draws strong support from the National Education Assn. and the American Federation of Teachers.

Gore said teachers need better pay, support and resources, and that faculty members who do not improve after special training and work with accomplished peers would be replaced.

"Does that answer your question? Do you like that?" he asked. She nodded affirmatively.

At a stop at Franklin High School, about 1,000 students gathered on the front lawn, screaming and clapping as the school buses pulled up. But along with the giddiness was the reality of politics.

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