Education Chat

Chat Transcript: The Kerry Education Agenda - Part 2

Robert Gordon, domestic policy advisor for the Kerry presidential campaign, answers your questions about the Kerry campaign's education platform, including Mr. Kerry's positions on key aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Kerry Education Agenda - Part 2

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Question from Jeff Wurzburg, Drake law student (writing note for Drake Ag Law journal about no child left behind’s effects on rural areas):
Mr. Gordon,

Could you please discuss the adverse effects that the No Child Left Behind Act has had on rural schools, and then discuss what a Kerry administration would do to remedy these problems?

Thank you.

Robert Gordon:
It’s a great question. Rural schools face special challenges because they often have fewer resources and many are located in remote areas, creating obstacles for recruitment of teachers and other school staff. As you probably saw Jeff, a recent study conducted by the Government Accountability Office highlighted the difficulties that rural school districts face in recruiting highly-qualified teachers and meeting the standards of No Child Left Behind, especially as declining enrollment and state fiscal crises cause these districts to lose state funding. Senator Kerry will address these challenges by ensuring that the law is fully funded – so all schools, including rural schools, have the resources that they need. His proposal to improve the teaching workforce also will help rural districts attract and retain high quality teachers by providing additional compensation ($5,000) to teachers willing to teach in high need schools.

He also supports the Rural Education Achievement Program – a program the current administration has proposed to eliminate. Rural districts often have small schools so they receive small amounts of money from various programs, which often do not have a big impact. The Rural Education Achievement Program provides additional funding to rural schools and gives them more flexibility with respect to combining funding coming in from different programs so they have a critical mass of funding that can be effectively used.

Finally, technology can be particularly valuable in rural districts. For example, small rural schools often use on-line courses as a way to diversify their course offerings and obtain additional teaching expertise. But getting connected to the internet can be challenging in remote areas. The existing e-rate programs helps schools to meet their needs in this area. Senator Kerry has been a strong supporter of this program. He will continue to support it, while working to improve its administration.

Question from Antoinette Bienemy, Delmont Elementary School, Baton Rouge, Louisiana:
As you know unban schools are faced with a varity of issues such as High Quality Teachers as opposed to Highly Qualified as described in NCLB, truancy, funding, overcrowded classrooms, etc. What is your plan for addressing the needs of schools that serve urban populations?

Robert Gordon:
It’s a very important question. As Senator Kerry often says, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have two school systems in America now divided primarily because of income rather than race. No students suffer more from this inequality than students in our underfunded and overwhelmed urban schools. These schools have been especially hard hit in the last four years, when states and cities have faced a record $200 billion in budget deficits. Those deficits have forced many governors and mayors to cut funding for education laying off teachers and other professionals, deferring key repairs, and cutting afterschool programs. Instead of going forward, these schools are going backward. John Kerry believes we must do better for urban schools. He will fully fund No Child Left Behind, providing about $10 billion in funding per year that is targeted to the schools that need help most. That money will help urban schools hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. A part of that money will also be dedicated to helping schools put a good teacher in every classroom. Because underfunded urban schools have the most trouble attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, John Kerry will offer financial incentives for teachers to go teach at these schools. To deal with behavioral problems, he will support initiatives to reduce violence which this President has tried to cut. Gang violence, for example, is a growing problem in many cities, yet this President has tried to cut efforts to reduce juvenile violence by 40%. That makes no sense. Finally, because some of the biggest schools have the biggest problems, John Kerry will support measures to break up these large schools and enable students to get more attention in the classroom.

Question from Maxine Swann, Regional Special Education Specialist:
What are Kerry’s plans to make teacher salaries commensurate with their academic qualifications and their dedicated responsibility of educating our nation’s children?

Robert Gordon:
Senator Kerry believes that the low salaries of many American teachers are a national disgrace, plain and simple. His own sister is a teacher, and he knows firsthand the hardships that so many teachers face. He has heard from so many teachers across the country about taking money out of their own pockets to buy school supplies, or about staying at school into the evenings night after night to give students the extra help they weren’t getting anyplace else. There is no profession more important to America’s future than teaching, and we have to begin paying teachers like we recognize that fact.

The federal government can’t change things overnight, but it can make a real difference. To raise teacher pay and make sure we have a good teacher in every classroom, Senator Kerry has proposed a $30 billion investment in teaching. The plan will help states offer better pay (including $5,000 bonus) to teachers who go into schools with high needs or subjects with particular shortages, as well as teachers who develop special skills or go the extra mile helping their students succeed. But pay isn’t the whole story—if you are interested in reading the rest of the plan, I’d encourage you to visit, and then click on the education link.

Robert Gordon:
Looks like we’ve got 10 minutes left. I’ve got a couple of more questions to answer, but I’d like to thank everyone for their very good -- and tough questions.

For those of you who are already Kerry-Edwards supporters, please do everything you can in the next 18 days to convince your friends and neighbors, and make sure everyone votes on election day.

I’m convinced that this is the most important election of my lifetime. If we work together we can make America stronger at home and more respected in the world.

Question from Caroline Vakhordjian, Teacher and Curriculum Developer, University of Phoenix:
With the emphasis on standardized tests many schools are cutting back on the arts, lunchtime, and recess. This is, in my opinion, extremely bad policy and could harm our children, as it eliminates many positives such as socialization with diverse populations in a safe setting, exposure to curricula that increases imagination and creativity, and makes being at school and learning more pleasurable.

What will be done to protect students and schools from the over emphasis of testing? When will teaching the “whole” child be reinstated rather than simply addressing the test-taking, academic child?

Robert Gordon:
Thanks Ms. Vakhordjian. I answered a question earlier about the importance of using high-quality tests. But, as you say, education is also about a lot of things that tests can’t measure at all—like learning to work together with others, developing good character and civic commitment, and just getting ready for adulthood. Senator Kerry is committed to making sure that tests don’t crowd out the rest of education. One way that he plans to do this to by making sure the No Child Left Behind is fully funded so schools don’t have to cut other important programs in order to meet its requirements. In addition, increased funding under NCLB will be focused on providing teachers with additional training. Senator Kerry will work to ensure that this training is focused on helping teachers to improve their skills and learn teaching methods that help students meet academic standards, while also addressing their broader development.

Afterschool programs provide an important opportunity to build a broader set of skills. The Senator has proposed increasing the availability of afterschool programs so that 2 million more students can have access to these programs over the next four years. In contrast, the President has proposed cutting afterschool programs for 500,000 students.

Question from Daryl Heinitz, Director of Assessment, Kingman Unified Schools:
Accountability requires an ever-increasing emphasis on data storage, accuracy, and disaggregation. What role should the federal government play in helping local schools with this task?

Robert Gordon:
You are exactly right that accurate data collection under No Child Left Behind is absolutely critical. One of Senator Kerry’s commitments is to make sure that schools have the resources to comply with the new requirements of NCLB. Whether or not these requirements are technically mandates, every school in America knows that these requirements have imposed major new burdens and required the movement of resources toward areas like data collection and storage. In addition, beyond giving schools the money they need to collect data, John Kerry will also make sure schools have the help they need. Recently there was a remarkable report from the Government Accounting Office indicating that many states and schools are struggling to comply with NCLBs mandates, including the data collection mandates, without the most basic kinds of help from Washington like written guidance on what to do to develop approved plans. That cant be right. The Department of Education needs to work as a partner with states, school districts, and schools so that they have the most advanced technical assistance and real-time help in meeting the very real demands of No Child Left Behind.

Question from Christine Chapman, Administrative Assitant:
Would John Kerry repeal the NCLB act? and If so, why and if not, why not?

Robert Gordon:
He wouldn’t repeal NCLB. He believes it is important that we set high standards for all of our children. But he also believes that right now the law isn’t working as it should because it hasn’t been funded as promised and it hasn’t been implemented with common sense. That’s why he will fully fund the law, which this President has failed to do, and he will make sure the law reflects not only high standards but also common sense and real-world experience across America. Most importantly, he will make sure that schools and teachers have the tools to meet high standards by reducing class sizes, supporting high-quality teaching, expanding afterschool opportunities, and making a special commitment to the schools that are struggling the most.

That wraps it up for the hour that we have. Thank you again for your questions and for your commitment to our nation’s children. Make sure to vote on election day!

Erik W. Robelen (Moderator):
Well, that’s all we have time for today. We received nearly 400 questions. Thank you for all of your questions, and thank you to Mr. Gordon.

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