WITH just days to go before the American presidential election, a respected national research organisation has cast extreme doubt on the success of educational reforms in Texas, the home state of Republican candidate George W Bush.
Governor Bush has staked much of his claim for the presidency on apparent dramatic improvements in student achievement, which he has called the "Texas Miracle". But a new report from the non-partisan California-based Rand Corporation says the supposed progress in Texas is more myth than miracle.
Predictably, vice-president Al Gore - Mr Bush's Democratic opponent - pounced on the report, which says that the percentage of students dropping out of school or failing a grade in Texas is actually increasing since the imposition of mandatory state achievement tests.
"The study reported that contrary to all that we've been told, the achievement gap for Texas students has not narrowed, it has widened," Mr Gore said. Vice- presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman said the findings "undercut confidence in what Governor Bush has been telling us about his great success in Texas".
The Bush campaign disputed the study, even though r Bush had previously cited other Rand research in defence of his record.
Mr Bush's spokesman, Dan Bartlett, said: "The progress in Texas is indisputable. Independent data shows that Texas is a national leader in student achievement."
The Rand report said that advances in reading and maths in Texas are less dramatic than Mr Bush has claimed, and that a learning gap between white and minority students has widened.
As evidence of his success, Mr Bush has cited increases in scores on state-administered tests between 1994 and 1998. But the researchers expressed "serious questions about the validity of the gains".
They pointed out that while Texas test scores did increase, Texas students did not significantly increase their performance on national achievement tests when compared with other states. The researchers speculated that Texas students were simply spending all of their time learning to do well on the state test; or that the Texas test itself was too easy.
The study also found that more white than minority students were improving their test scores, contradicting Mr Bush's contention that he has increased achievement across the racial spectrum.