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Caroline Kennedy and NCLB

By Alyson Klein — December 29, 2008 2 min read
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If appointed to the Senate, Caroline Kennedy has said she would like to be involved in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, helped to champion, according to a story that ran this weekend in the New York Times.

In case you hadn’t heard, Kennedy is hoping to take over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seat, if, as expected, Clinton becomes President-elect Obama’s Secretary of State.

In their story, The Times reporters who interviewed her seem to think that she dodged questions about teacher tenure and merit pay, but reading over the transcript of their interview, she sounds to me like basically any other Democrat in Washington these days as they try to navigate those sticky subjects.

The Times reporters asked Kennedy what she thought of DC chancellor Michelle Rhee’s plan to offer teachers the opportunity to earn more money in exchange for giving up tenure. Here was her response:

CK: I think it has to be done, you know, collaboratively with the teachers and with the union. I think here the school-wide bonuses that we gave, here, that we’ve done with the union and the city — I mean, that is, I think, a good model. There’ve been — Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education, incoming, has worked with the union and I think that the reform efforts that they’ve made over time will yield benefits in terms of student achievements. So if you just pick out the most controversial one as a stand-alone thing, you know, I don’t think that’s really the way to go about this. I think if people can vote it’ll be really interesting to see what happens. I think there’s a lot of experimentation going on around the country that we should pay attention to. But here, I think these bonuses that are shared schoolwide give everyone in the leadership team incentive in the school to work together to raise the kids’, you know, achievement, and I think that’s going to be an interesting thing to see how that works. And the schools, you know, have almost all signed up for it.

And on NCLB, Kennedy said, “I think there’s also a lot of problems with test scores, and so, you know, I think we need to give the schools the flexibility. There’s too much reliance on these, you know, NAEP tests.”

Sounds to me like she’s taking her cues from Obama on testing generally - but I wish The Times reporters had pressed her a bit on her take on NAEP.

Students have to take the NAEP tests, but states aren’t held accountable for the results, at all, just for how they do on their own exams. So it’s hard to say that the law relies too much on the NAEP results. The law doesn’t seem to rely on them at all - to the chagrin of a lot of folks in the education reform camp who say many state tests aren’t nearly as rigorous as NAEP.

President Bush and Secretary Spellings have cited rising scores on some NAEP tests in defending the NCLB law, though many question their conclusion that NCLB is a major factor in those gains. Maybe Kennedy’s saying that standardized tests, including the NAEP, don’t provide an accurate picture of student achievement? Or maybe she just doesn’t understand the relatively limited role of NAEP tests in the law.

Kennedy was also asked about her role in coming to work in the New York Department of Education under Chancellor Joel Klein. It sounds like Bill Gates asked her to stay on and help oversee how a grant his foundation financed for the city school system.

Still, Kennedy’s ties to Klein may not win her many supporters among teachers unions, who have sometimes clashed with the chancellor. That could be viewed as a point of contrast with the woman Kennedy is seeking to replace. Hillary Clinton, appears to have a warm relationship with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed her in the primary.