From contributor Mark Walsh
The early presidential debates finally got around to something more than lip service to education issues, as the CNN/YouTube debate on Monday night devoted a string of four questions to K-12 education issues.
The unusual format at the July 23 debate at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., featured citizens’ delivering questions via YouTube videos, with CNN producers selecting which questions to direct to the eight candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
The most provocative question came from Randy McGirr of Trona, Calif., whose heavy-metal style video was unequivocally opposed to the law: “NCLB was such scam. So now tell me, sir or ma’am, would you scrap the whole thing or just revise? Tell me the truth, don’t tell me no lies.”
CNN host Anderson Cooper directed the question to just two of the candidates—Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware.
“I would scrap it. It doesn’t work,” Gov. Richardson said bluntly to applause from the audience. “It is not just an unfunded mandate, but the one-size-fits-all doesn’t work.”
“The worst thing it does is it takes districts and schools that are not doing well, takes their funds away, penalizes them,” Gov. Richardson added. “If a school is not doing well, we help that school.”
Sen. Biden said it was a mistake that he voted for the law in 2001 “against my better instinct” because he had great faith in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was a leading Democratic architect of the broadly bipartisan-supported of the law.
“My wife’s been teaching for 30 years,” Sen. Biden added. “She has her doctorate in education. She comes back and points out how it’s just not working.”
Cooper moved on to the next question, about whether as president the candidates would send their children to public schools or private schools. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut used that question for a short defense of the NCLB law.
“Accountability is very important,” Sen. Dodd said. “This is one country—we’ve got to have the best prepared generation of Americans that we’ve ever produced in our educational system. No other issue, in my view, is as important as this one here.”
“And getting the No Child Left Behind law right is where we ought to focus our attention here so that we have resources coming back to our states,” Mr. Dodd continued. “You measure growth in a child. You invest in failing schools. But I would not scrap it entirely.”
Other questions were about the candidates’ favorite teachers:
and whether they have delivered sex education lessons to their children:
(See also Alexander Russo’s take on the debate and the ed questions here.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.