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Campaign K-12 Notebook

September 23, 2008 4 min read
The Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, waves to supporters after speaking at a rally on Sept. 18 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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McCain Proposes Head Start Idea Already Adopted by Congress

Sen. John McCain has an idea for Head Start that is sure to generate broad support in Congress—because lawmakers have already passed it.

On his campaign Web site, the Republican presidential nominee says he wants to create “Centers for Excellence” for Head Start programs to hold up certain local preschool programs as models.

“While there are some excellent Head Start centers that can serve as models for leadership and best practices, far too many Head Start centers have fallen prey to the same institutional flaws that have undermined the larger public education system,” Sen. McCain says on his site. “They lack quality instructors; they lack accountability to parents; and they are focused on process, not outcomes.

“We should build Centers for Excellence in Head Start that actually [lead] to excellence in all of the pre-K and early-learning programs that taxpayers support.”

His colleagues in Congress obviously agree: They included a Centers for Excellence initiative in the Head Start reauthorization that President Bush signed into law last year. (“Bush Signs Head Start, With Qualms,” Dec. 19, 2007.)

Some of the Arizona senator’s other pre-K proposals aren’t likely to be as popular: Lawmakers have already rejected them, again during the years-long debate over legislation to renew Head Start.

His plan says that federally supported pre-K programs, including Head Start, must use “meaningful, measurable standards designed to determine that students are ready for school by measuring their school readiness skills.”

That sounds similar to the National Reporting System, a Bush administration initiative for testing Head Start pupils. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the system wasn’t fair, in part because it’s tough to design assessments to measure learning outcomes for young children, many experts say.

Congress got rid of the testing during the reauthorization, over the administration’s objections.

Neither Sen. McCain nor his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, showed up for the final vote on the Head Start bill on Nov. 14, 2007. It passed the Senate 95-0. —Alyson Klein

Voter-Registration Drive Set for Local Head Start Centers

Voter-registration efforts are often a big part of political campaigns. Consider the decision by Sen. Obama’s campaign to have him accept the Democratic presidential nomination at Invesco Field in Denver, packed with 80,000 people, many from the swing state of Colorado. The nominee got more than just cheers—his campaign also collected attendees’ contact information for voter-registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. People had to provide that information in exchange for tickets.

So it may be no small thing for the National Head Start Association and the League of Women Voters to mount a voter-registration drive at the 2,600 Head Start programs across the country. The drive has the potential to reach the parents of 1 million children.

The drive is permitted by language in the federal legislation that reauthorized the Head Start program last year. The NHSA, in a press release announcing the voter drive, said: “The specific provision allows ‘nonpartisan organizations’ to use Head Start facilities ‘during hours of operation . . . to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for federal office.’ ”

The registration drive is officially nonpartisan but would likely help Sen. Obama more than Sen. McCain. Head Start centers most typically serve lower-income, urban areas that tend to vote Democratic. And Sen. Obama’s education plan calls for increasing funding for Head Start and quadrupling the number of children in Early Head Start (for children from birth to age 3). (See above for Sen. McCain’s pre-K ideas.) —Michele McNeil

Palin: ‘I’m a Product of Title IX,’ so Issue of Dual Role ‘Irrelevant’

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Charles Gibson of ABC News during their recent interviews that questions about whether she can be both a mother and a high-powered politician are irrelevant, in part because she grew up under, and benefited from, the federal law that bars sex bias in public education.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs. The law is widely credited with increasing girls’ and women’s high school and college athletic opportunities.

Asked by Mr. Gibson in an interview aired Sept. 12 whether it was sexist for someone to ask whether Ms. Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, could manage a large family and the vice presidency, she said: “I don’t know. I’m lucky to have been brought up in a family where gender has never been an issue.

“I’m a product of Title IX, also, where we had equality in schools that was just being ushered in with sports and with equal opportunity for education, all of my life. I’m part of that generation, where that question is kind of irrelevant, because it’s accepted. Of course you can be the vice president and you can raise a family.”

Mr. Gibson accompanied the governor on a walk through Wasilla High School in Alaska, where in 1982, Ms. Palin, then Sarah Heath, was a member of the girls’ basketball team that won the state championship after she hit a crucial free throw late in the final game.

Ms. Palin also ran track and cross country at Wasilla High, and she is still an avid runner in addition to being a “hockey mom,” the Anchorage Daily News reported on Sept. 14.—Mark Walsh

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2008 edition of Education Week as Campaign K-12 Notebook

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