Maggie Gallagher
Once again, Bush won the debate over the issue that matters most to undecided voters -- and arguably to the future of this country -- education. The question that launched the debate, from Angie Pettig, was: How would you hold parents accountable, as well as schools, for student performance?

Funny thing: Bush had an answer and Gore had none. Of course the president of the United States can't make sure all parents love their kids and do right by them. But he can propose legislation that would protect teachers from lawsuits and threats of lawsuits when they try to discipline unruly kids. Would the tort lawyers let Gore get away with that? Schools, Bush went on to hammer home, should be held accountable for student performance, measured in every grade, not just every four years. Head Start should teach phonics, so poor kids come to school prepared. When schools consistently failed to teach, the federal government would stop routinely subsidizing failure. Federal money is ultimately supposed to help students, not fund systems that don't or can't teach. "I also believe that we need to say to people that if you cannot meet standards, there has to be a consequence. We can't continue to shuffle children through school. And one of the consequences is to allow parents to have different choices."

From ending "the soft bigotry of low expectations" to his promise to "leave no child behind," Gov. Bush has put forth a consistent plan of action to deal with the worst of the worst of the school crises in America: children trapped in decaying, dangerous, decrepit schools no middle-class mama would leave her babies in for a day. Bush has a record in Texas of improving the education of minority kids more than has been done in just about any other state.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.