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McCain Challenges Obama to Endorse Education Redesign Statement

By Alyson Klein — August 01, 2008 1 min read
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Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona today said in a speech to the National Urban League that he would add his name to a statement of principles for education put forth last month by the Education Equality Project.

The group, which includes some big name district superintendents, released a statement in June intended to influence the presidential campaigns. It contends that schools need to be held primarily responsible for improving student achievement and that educators must be willing to embrace changes in the way schools are structured in order to bring about improvement, according to this story, by Edweek‘s David Hoff.

McCain tweaked his rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, for failing to sign the statement. He suggested that Obama is reluctant to sign onto the group’s proposals, which include holding educators accountable for student achievement, because he’s afraid of angering teachers’ unions.

Here’s an excerpt from McCain’s prepared remarks, emailed to reporters shortly before the speech:

The Education Equality Project has brought together leaders from all across the political spectrum, including school Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Chancellor Klein is a strong supporter of charter schools, because he understands that fundamental reform is needed. As he puts it, "in large urban areas the culture of public education is broken. If you don't fix this culture, then you are not going to be able to make the kind of changes that are needed." Among others who share this conviction are Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, and Harold Ford, Junior. You know that a reform movement is truly bipartisan when J.C. Watts and Al Sharpton are both members. And today I am proud to add my name as well to the list of those who support the aims and principles of the Education Equality Project. But one name is still missing, Senator Obama's. My opponent talks a great deal about hope and change, and education is as good a test as any of his seriousness. The Education Equality Project is a practical plan for delivering change and restoring hope for children and parents who need a lot of both. And if Senator Obama continues to defer to the teachers unions, instead of committing to real reform, then he should start looking for new slogans.

McCain also reiterated his support for the proposals he unveiled in his speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last month, which include expanding the DC Opportunity scholarship program, allowing principals more control over their budgets, and embracing alternative certification programs. He said those ideas align with the group’s principles.

The same week the Education Equality Project released its statement, another coalition, unveiled its vision for a “Broader, Bolder Approach to Education”, which calls on policymakers to consider health and social programs as necessary for school reform. That group is comprised of researchers and federal policymakers, including Obama campaign adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, and Arne Duncan, the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools.

At the time the statements were released, Obama supported both of them, his deputy policy director, Danielle Gray, told Hoff.

I wonder if that will still be the case after McCain’s very public embrace of the Education Equality Project today.

Klein and Sharpton, both Dems, released a statement today praising McCain’s decision. Here’s what they had to say:

We are gratified that Senator McCain has endorsed the principles of the Education Equality Project, joining education, civil rights, and elected officials across America who are working together to bring meaningful reform to our nation's public schools. The members of the Education Equality Project believe that education reform is the civil rights issue of our time. Fixing our schools won't be easy and it will require strong national leadership--but nothing short of that will enable us to live up to our basic commitment to our children: to help them learn so they have a real shot at achieving the American dream. Education reform, like civil rights, is above partisan politics and must be embraced by all.