Bush, Gore Insiders Give Candid Answers During Policy Forum

By Joetta L. Sack — October 25, 2000 3 min read

Two top advisers to the two leading presidential candidates debated the nitty- gritty of their advisees’ education policy proposals here this month.

Elaine C. Kamarck, who has the ear of Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, and Sandy Kress, who is working with Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the GOP candidate, fielded questions from education heavyweights from foundations, higher education institutions, and other education groups at an Oct. 13 event hosted by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

During the three-hour exchange on the 26th floor of Carnegie’s offices in midtown Manhattan, the two counselors were often more candid than their candidates.

Mr. Kress, for one, asserted that states should not count on seeing a large increase in federal spending from either candidate’s plan.

“The critical issue is how effective that money is,” said Mr. Kress, a lawyer and former member of the Dallas school board. “We want to push states into making more effective decisions about the money.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Kamarck promoted the vice president’s plans to support universal preschool and expand the federal government’s financial contribution to education as key.

“We must develop a more robust and longer-term vision,” said Ms. Kamarck, a former White House adviser to President Clinton and Mr. Gore and former senior fellow for the Democratic Leadership Council’s think tank. She is now the executive director of the Visions of Governance for the 21st Century program at Harvard University.

While a Gore administration could not force states to set up preschools and early-childhood centers, Ms. Kamarck said, many states are already experimenting with innovative ideas and need help to see those through.

“I think we can get to a point where we have preschool available for all 4-year-olds who want it, and we would end up with a very robust preschool program,” Ms. Kamarck said.

Charters and Testing

Both presidential candidates are concerned about how current federal funds are being spent, think that teacher shortages and teaching conditions are a major concern, and believe the federal government should continue to allocate most federal education dollars to poor districts to help level the playing field, the two advisers said. They also agreed that their candidates have put forth some similar proposals.

On charter schools, for instance, both Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush have called for big increases in federal funding to significantly increase the numbers of charter schools. But both advisers said there is little research so far to prove that charter schools—which are publicly funded but largely independent—are an effective model for change.

“There are some charter schools that have knocked the ball out of the park,” Mr. Kress said. “But you’re quite right to be suspicious, and we need to be on guard to watch this experiment,” he said in response to a question from moderator Gene Maeroff. Mr. Maeroff is the director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University and a former education reporter for TheNew York Times.

Ms. Kamarck and Mr. Kress did spend time, however, debating the merits of the many accountability measures their candidates are proposing. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore are committed to continuing standards-based reform efforts, the advisers said, even though standardized testing has run into some opposition.

“Testing is vital ... but testing is not going to make the changes that either candidate wants to see,” Ms. Kamarck said.

She promoted Mr. Gore’s proposals to provide states with more federal dollars to hire new teachers and require states to test new teachers in their subjects areas as a condition of receiving federal aid, as well as his plans on school construction and technology as essential counterparts to testing. Mr. Gore will look to after-school programs, she added, to bring back into schools less academic but still important subjects, such as music and arts, that have been squeezed out in some places.

Accountability Plans

Ms. Kamarck contended that many of Gov. Bush’s accountability proposals are already in current law. For instance, he has proposed adding accountability measures for Head Start, but that has largely already been done, she said.

But Mr. Kress countered that the Clinton-Gore administration has not followed through on enforcing its own accountability provisions, a frequent complaint by Republicans. “They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk,” he said. “There’s no passion, no vigor in this administration in seeing this thing through.”

The event was the first in a series of discussions the Carnegie Corporation is hosting on education-related topics.

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