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Barack Obama and Personal Responsibility

By Alyson Klein — July 15, 2008 1 min read
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So last night I attended Sen. Barack Obama’s speech to the NAACP. He got a rousing reception and stressed the need for parents to step up and get involved in their children’s educations. He linked that involvement to the struggles of the civil rights movement.

Many teachers in the audience liked what he had to say. You can check out their reactions in my web story on the event, posted here.

The teachers I talked to also liked Obama’s policy proposals, which he alluded to briefly. They said they didn’t know much about Sen. John McCain of Arizona’s education platform. (That may change on Wednesday when McCain gives a speech that will supposedly focus on schools.)

Obama talked about the need to “reform” the NCLB law, but didn’t get into too many specifics. Still, all of the teachers and educators I talked to (who were uniformly disparaging of the NCLB law) seemed to think that Obama agreed with them that it isn’t working and needs to be dramatically overhauled.

For instance, Liney Glenn, who recently retired from her job as a reading specialist in a school district near Pittsburgh, equated Sen. Obama’s general theme of change with the need to change the school improvement law, which she said focuses too much on standardized tests.

“He definitely feels there’s a better way,” to address the problem of inequities among public schools, she told me.

I think this is a great example of how voters can (understandably) get rhetoric confused with policy proposals. Sure, Obama has made a lot of statements that are critical of NCLB. But, having parsed most of what he’s said on the campaign trail, I’m still not sure if his prescriptions for changing the law would go as far as many voters I’ve talked to seem to think, especially since he’s made it clear that he supports the idea of federal accountability.

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