Obama Talks About NCLB, But Not Enough for the Experts

September 10, 2008 1 min read

Barack Obama broke the presidential candidates’ silence on NCLB. In what his campaign promoted as a major education policy speech, he uttered the phrase “No Child Left Behind.” To precise, he said it five times. See the excerpts below.

The headline on most stories about the speech highlighted Obama’s promise to double funding for charter schools. That was indeed the news; as Michele McNeil points out, Obama’s education plan doesn’t mention charter schools.

What’s more, everything Obama said yesterday about NCLB is similar to what he’s said before. (See samples from this entry or this one.)

Yesterday’s speech, left some policywonks wanting more. Checker Finn suggests that Obama’s speech (given in Checker’s hometown, no less) fails to address the major issues facing the law. In the world according to Checker, those issues are “who sets standards, what constitutes adequate progress, what exactly to do about failing schools, etc.”

And Kevin Carey chastises Obama for focusing so much on money: “Even a ‘fully funded’ NCLB would provide less than five percent of what it costs to run the nation’s K-12 school system. The debate is about how best to measure educational success and what do when we determine that success is insufficient.”

Carey and Finn are right. Then again, one could say the same things about McCain’s plans related to NCLB. They don’t systemically address Checker’s “to do” list, and they focus on the issues to choice and tutoring—a set of issues that is as narrow as money.

You wouldn’t expect candidates discuss the big picture in stump speeches, but past candidates have explained their ideas in other ways. Both Bill Clinton and George Bush campaigned with comprehensive ideas of how to shape federal policy, using the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as the lever. Neither Obama nor McCain is doing that. What will that mean for NCLB’s reauthorization? Comments welcome.

Here are the quotes from Obama’s speech yesterday:

You don’t reform our schools by opposing efforts to fully fund No Child Left Behind."
Of course, we also have to fix the broken promises of No Child Left Behind. Now, I believe that the goals of this law were the right ones. Making a promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher is right. Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right. "But I’ll tell you what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind. Forcing our teachers, our principals, and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong. Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong."
We must fix the failures of No Child Left Behind. We must provide the funding we were promised, and give our states the resources they need, and finally meet our commitment to special education. But Democrats have to realize that fixing No Child Left Behind is not enough to prepare our children for a global economy."

A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.