School Administrator Has Miles to Go Before Reaching U.S. Senate
On some level, most politicians consider themselves authorities on education. After all, they’ve all been to school, right? But when Mike Miles talks about the subject, he speaks from a little bit more experience.
In fact, he’s still got a foot in the schoolhouse door—as a district-level administrator—even as he’s campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat from Colorado. Before that, the Democratic hopeful was a teacher and middle school principal.
He has cut back his hours as an assistant superintendent considerably as his campaign has heated up, but he’s still working in that job for the 6,000-student Fountain-Fort Carson district, near Colorado Springs, 20 percent of the time.
“Running for office is a bit of work,” he said in a recent interview.
Mr. Miles, 47, faces tough odds in his Senate bid. He’s up against state Attorney General Ken Salazar, a much better-known and better- financed opponent, in the Aug. 10 Democratic primary.
“I think he’s an underdog by a substantial margin, but this isn’t going to be a 10-to-1 blowout,” said John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. “He’s run an extraordinarily good campaign, especially given the fact that the Democratic Party establishment never really took him seriously.”
Mr. Miles, who was a U.S. Army ranger and a diplomat in Poland and Russia before becoming an educator, began campaigning long before Mr. Salazar jumped into the race earlier this year. The attorney general decided to run after Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell unexpectedly announced he would retire at the end of his term.
Mr. Miles said his top three campaign issues, in order, are: health care, foreign policy, and education.
He backs a single-payer system of universal health care and opposed the war in Iraq.
On school issues, he’s lambasted the No Child Left Behind Act.
“There’s absolutely no question in my mind that No Child Left Behind is bad legislation,” he said, maintaining that his stance is not a simple knee-jerk reaction. He argues, for instance, that the law is based on the “false premise” that schools “have 100 percent control over the academic proficiency of a child.” He also criticizes the way the law measures schools.
But Mr. Miles said be believes in accountability, and notes that student achievement improved considerably when he was the principal of a middle school in his district for four years.
“No one can say I’m afraid of accountability,” he said. “I know how to raise student achievement, and it ain’t with vouchers and No Child Left Behind.”
If elected, he promises, he will work to repeal the federal law.
“As a senator, I would make sure that my colleagues get educated on this subject, because they certainly don’t know what the heck they’re doing,” he said.
Mr. Miles is also proposing new measures to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.
A staunch opponent of school vouchers, he notes that Mr. Salazar has backed vouchers on a pilot basis.
But Mr. Miles’ education career and stance on the issues haven’t been enough to win support from the Colorado Education Association. The union is backing Mr. Salazar.
“He’s a proven candidate and a friend of the Colorado Education Association,” said Deborah Fallin, a spokeswoman for the 37,000- member affiliate of the National Education Association. “The decision was not anti-Mike Miles, it was just pro-Ken Salazar.”
President Bush says that elementary schools are improving because of the work accomplished during his term.
If he gets a second term, he would aim to improve high schools.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states are working to ensure that every student is proficient in reading and mathematics. Under the law’s reading program, schools are also improving instruction to ensure that 3rd graders are capable readers, Mr. Bush said in a July 21 speech in Washington that covered his second-term goals in foreign and domestic policy.
“Now we must move forward and make certain that our high schools are doing their jobs, as well,” he said at the fund- raiser for Republican congressional candidates. “Every high school diploma must mean that our graduates are prepared for jobs, for college, and for success.”
The president did not outline the role the federal government would play in making that happen.
—Erik W. Robelen & David J. Hoff
A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Campaign Notebook