Reporter's Notebook

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Buttoning Up

The national political conventions are a time for delegates and other partisans to wear their politics on their sleeves-or on their lapels and shirts. So political buttons are in demand among educators at the Democrats' gathering here.

At the Sheraton Boston hotel on Sunday, July 25, a large political-memorabilia booth was set up outside the ballroom where the National Education Association was holding its caucus for delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

There were all manner of buttons, such as "NEA Supports Kerry-Edwards," "AFT [American Federation of Teachers] Supports John Kerry," and "Teachers for Kerry-Edwards."

At the Sheraton, which is home to the labor-friendly Ohio delegation, the booth also offered these buttons:

  • "UAW [United Auto Workers] Supports Kerry-Edwards"
  • "Teamsters Support Kerry"
  • "Mineworkers Support Kerry"
  • "Political Wonks for Kerry-Edwards"
  • "Former Hippies for Kerry-Edwards"
  • "Actors for Kerry-Edwards"
  • "Elvis Impersonators for Kerry-Edwards"
Democratic National Convention
Read all our convention coverage.

Audio Extras:

  • Education Week editor Mark Walsh reports on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's appearance at an early childhood education forum. (2:27) Windows Media format | MP3 format

One button at the booth alludes to an education topic that has gotten much attention in politics, especially from the NEA: the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The ambitious, bipartisan school-accountability measure is a top accomplishment of President Bush, but the NEA has lashed out against it for its sanctions on schools deemed in need of improvement and for what the union says is the administration's failure to fully fund it.

The button says "Leave No Child a Dime," with a picture of a 10-cent piece.

Just what message the button was trying to convey about the No Child Left Behind law or any other federal policy was a source for puzzlement among some who looked it over.

Princess Moss, a teacher from Louisa, Va., and the incoming president of the Virginia Education Association, said, "My interpretation is that No Child Left Behind is mandated, but there's no funding for it."

Others weren't so sure, with one visitor saying she thought "Leave No Child a Dime" probably referred to what she viewed as the Republican administration's failure to deal with the problems of the Social Security system.

Ms. Moss said she has also seen a button that says "Leave No Child Untested," a reference to the major increase in assessment brought about by the law.

After carefully picking through the several hundred button choices at the booth, she passed up the "Leave No Child a Dime" one and others for a button with a W and a red slash symbol across it. That button's message was unmistakable.

"I like this; it's simple," Ms. Moss said. "I don't do long messages."

-Mark Walsh

All in the Family

Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher from Milwaukee, Wis., was pretty busy over her winter break this past school year. Like many people, she headed home for the holidays, to Iowa.

But she didn't exactly kick back for two weeks. The 25-year-old volunteered for the John Edwards for President campaign, knocking on doors and working phone banks in her home state.

Of course, things didn't exactly work out as she had hoped for the North Carolina senator. He finished second in the Iowa caucuses before eventually dropping out of the race.

"I was disappointed," she said. "However, I'm very glad that John Kerry put him on the ticket."

Asked why she volunteered for Mr. Edwards, she said: "The number one reason was he's such a strong believer in public education."

Not surprisingly, this week she's most looking forward to John Edwards' speech the evening of July 28, the third night of the convention.

"He's so optimistic and positive," she said. "I really like that."

Ms. McMahon is a first-time delegate, and is also the first one in her family. Ms. McMahon is the 13th of 14 children. Five of them are teachers and two others hold teaching degrees.

Besides returning for her third year of teaching this fall and attending graduate school part time, she'll be helping out the Kerry-Edwards campaign, though she admits that she'd rather the ticket were flipped.

Meanwhile, she'll also carve out some time for another campaign, back in Iowa.

"My brother Mike, who is a teacher ... is running for a state representative seat," she said.

-Erik W. Robelen

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