"Every child can learn. We expect every school to teach. And we are making progress when it comes to our public schools," said President Bush this past week while campaigning in Pennsylvania. But perhaps Mr. Bush's definition of progress is skewed.The U.S. public education system is today marked not by progress but by a mess of arbitrary assessments through dubious standardized testing, gross discrepancies in funding, poorly trained and paid educators and constant budget cuts.

The idea of providing free education to anyone who wished to take advantage of it in schools with children of all different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds was, and still remains, a foreign concept in many places around the world.

While we can laud the fundamental ideas behind public education, the present reality threatens to undermine the philosophy upon which this system was founded. In almost every state throughout the country, there has been a educational crisis. To name a few:

In Oregon, public schools face a budget-funding crisis. Unable to maintain many integral school programs, they have adopted the mantra, "Do less with less," while trying to maintain the integrity of their few programs.

In Massachusetts, statewide testing under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System has been deemed unfair, discriminating against minority, special education and other students who have not been adequately prepared for the exam.

On Long Island, New York, which is home to some of the nation's top public schools, a gross discrepancy exists. Districts such as Roosevelt were put under special supervision, while neighboring districts, such as Roslyn, continued to thrive. As a result, charter schools were opened.

In Florida, under Gov. Jeb Bush's zelously over-funded Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a culture of testing is replacing one of learning. Instructors there, like in so many other states, find themselves molding an entire curriculum around one test. This increasing trend emphasizing accountability has replaced educators with results-obsessed statisticians.

Mr. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, which he called the "cornerstone" of his administration. This program, aimed to drastically improve public education, is built on four main pillars: Stronger accountability for results, more freedom for states and communities, proven education methods and more choices for parents.

In its ideal form, perhaps Mr. Bush's program was not such a bad idea, but given the reality of the gross-under funding that schools around the nation are facing, his program is just not feasible. How can schools be required to reach a higher level without resources to aid them in this endeavor? As a result of not reaching standards set No Child Left Behind, many schools' budgets were cut even more, promulgating a vicious cycle.

Our greatest hope is for new leadership when it comes to public education reform. While the Democratic candidate would be a likely choice for a more progressive stance, Senator John Kerry has, so far, fallen short. While he has some great ideas, such as a National Education Trust Fund to ensure that schools always get the funding they need, he has failed to spend adequate time during his campaign outlining his educational proposals.

On the campaign trail, the importance of educating schoolchildren to prepare them for the future is an everyday feature of the candidates' rhetoric, but both candidates need to refine their positions on education. Mr. Bush has, thus far, failed to keep his promises, and Mr. Kerry has failed to convince sufficiently the public of his plans to take a more aggressive stance when it comes to public education.