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Campaign K-12 Notebook

October 07, 2008 6 min read
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There wasn’t a single question on education during the vice presidential debate last week, but Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska managed to get some of their views on federal K-12 policy on the table anyway—including a surprise comment from the Republican nominee saying she wants to increase education funding.

“Our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding,” Gov. Palin said during the Oct. 2 debate at Washington University in St. Louis. “Teachers need to be paid more.”

And she said that states’ education standards have been “a little bit lax” and need to be raised.

She also gave voters a sense of where she stands on the No Child Left Behind Act, which neither presidential candidate has addressed much on the campaign trail.

“No Child Left Behind was implemented,” Gov. Palin said. “It’s not doing the job, though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind.”

And she bemoaned the lack of attention education has received.

“It’s near and dear to my heart,” she said.

Sen. Biden pointed out that Sen. John McCain of Arizona hasn’t proposed increasing education spending. The Republican presidential nominee has said he wants to freeze discretionary spending for most domestic programs, including education, until he can conduct a top-to-bottom review of all federal programs.

Sen. Biden cited lack of money as a reason that the federal school accountability law hasn’t been a success.

“The reason No Child Left Behind was left behind—the money was left behind; we didn’t fund it,” he said.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee said that he and his running mate, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, would not scale back their $18 billion education spending plan, despite economic pressures and the possibility of a $700 billion assistance plan for the financial sector.

“We won’t slow up on education, because that’s the engine that’s going to give us the economic growth and competitiveness we need,” he said.

Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin weren’t given the opportunity to criticize their respective running mates’ records on schools, but Sen. Biden did get in a quick dig on Sen. McCain’s views, saying that “he has not been a maverick when it comes to education.”—Alyson Klein

The Third Parties and Education

John McCain and Barack Obama both say they would keep much of the No Child Left Behind Act’s architecture of standards, testing, and accountability. But while the two major-party nominees are in at least general accord on those NCLB basics, three other candidates for president have a different stand on the law: Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, and Ralph Nader all want to repeal it.

Here’s a sampling of their views:

Mr. Nader, the longtime consumer advocate who is running in his third consecutive election, this time as an independent, says on his campaign Web site: “Federal policy needs to be transformed from one that uses punishments to control schools, to one that supports teachers and students; from one that relies primarily on standardized tests, to one that encourages high-quality assessments. Broader measures of student learning are needed that include reliance on classroom-based assessments along with testing.”

Mr. Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate, writes on his campaign’s site: “Turning education over to the federal government, as through such legislation as the No Child Left Behind Act, has not worked. Trying to fix failing schools with more money and regulations also has failed to do anything other than waste taxpayer money without results.”

He proposes ending the federal government’s role in education and leaving decisionmaking to state and local governments.

The Green Party, which has nominated Ms. McKinney to be its candidate, writes in its draft platform that “the federal act titled No Child Left Behind punishes where it should assist and hinders its own declared purpose. It should be repealed or greatly redesigned.”

The federal government’s role should be limited to ensuring students across states have a “level playing field,” the platform says.

Ms. McKinney, a former Democrat, was a U.S. representative from 1993 until 2003 and again from 2005 until 2007; Mr. Barr, a former Republican, was a U.S. representative from 1995 until 2003.

But they don’t mention a relevant detail from their records while representing Georgia districts in the House of Representatives: Back in 2001, both voted for the NCLB legislation twice, once when the House passed its bill and again when the chamber approved the House-Senate compromise that went to President Bush for his signature.—Alyson Klein

Palin’s Evolving Science Ed. Views

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin last week had more to say about whether evolution and/or creationism should be taught in public schools.

Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska, was asked by anchorwoman Katie Couric about the issue during a segment that aired on the “CBS Evening News” last week.

Here’s the exchange:

Ms. Couric: Do you believe evolution should be taught as an accepted scientific principle or as one of several theories?

Ms. Palin: Oh, I think it should be taught as an accepted principle. And, as you know, I say that also as the daughter of a schoolteacher, a science teacher, who has really instilled in me a respect for science. It should be taught in our schools. And I won’t deny that I see the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth. But that is not part of the state policy or a local curriculum in a school district. Science should be taught in science class.

The response was a softening of a view Ms. Palin suggested she held during her 2006 campaign for governor.

Addressing the issue of teaching evolution and creationism during a televised debate during that campaign, she said: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is important, and I am a proponent of teaching both.” —Michele McNeil

ED in ‘08 Funding Nears End

After more than a year and a half and an expenditure of around $25 million, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation aren’t going to be providing more money for ED in ’08, the venture that was designed to put education front and center in the presidential campaign.

The development was first reported late last month by the Puget Sound Business Journal, a newspaper in the Seattle area.

Christopher J. Williams, a program officer at the Gates Foundation, in Seattle, said that the philanthropy has funded ED in ’08 through March 2009, and that the project always had a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, pegged to the election. The foundations had originally pledged up to $60 million for the effort. (“Effort for Education as Campaign Issue Fights for Traction,” Dec. 5, 2007.)

“The money that’s gone into it is the money that we think we need to get the job done,” Mr. Williams said in an interview.

Still, most observers agree there has been relatively little discussion of education issues in the presidential campaign. It’s tough to say whether that was because the economy, the nation’s two wars, and “lipstick on a pig” comments drowned out some of the policy ideas that ED in ’08 worked to get on the radar screen.

Karen Denne, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, said that while education hasn’t been the top issue this year, there’s been more discussion of it than there would have been otherwise, thanks to ED in ’08.

“What we realize is that, given the current landscape, education is competing with some very significant issues both for the candidates’ attention and the public’s attention,” Ms. Denne said in an interview.

“Education has been discussed to the degree that it has been because of Strong American Schools,” she said. “ED in ’08 has absolutely done a tremendous job in getting education addressed by the presidential candidates.”

Strong American Schools is the nonprofit organization in Washington that administers the campaign.

Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Strong American Schools, said that both major presidential candidates have expressed support for at least two of the organization’s three main policy ideas: alternative pay plans for teachers, high standards, and extended learning time.

The Broad and Gates foundations both provide grant support for some Education Week special projects.—Alyson Klein

A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2008 edition of Education Week as Campaign K-12 Notebook

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