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Federal Chat

Chat Transcript: The Kerry Education Agenda

Robert Gordon, domestic policy advisor for the Kerry presidential campaign, answers your questions about the Kerry campaign's education platform, including Mr. Kerry's positions on key aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Kerry Education Agenda

About the Guest:
Robert Gordon was previously the policy director for the Edwards for President campaign; the legislative director for Sen. Edwards; law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; a lawyer for children in child protection cases in N.Y.C; and a Clinton White House aide who helped develop the AmeriCorps national service program.

Editor’s note: As part of its coverage of the 2004 presidential election, Education Week invited both the Bush and Kerry campaigns to take part in online chats with our audience to discuss their candidates’ education proposals and records. Robert Gordon, advisor to the Kerry campaign, participated in a chat on Oct. 15, 2004.

Sandy Kress, an education adviser with the Bush campaign, was the guest in an online chat on Sept. 15, 2004. Read the transcript from that chat.

Erik W. Robelen (Moderator):
Good afternoon. Welcome to Education Week’s live chat on Senator Kerry’s education agenda. Robert Gordon, domestic policy advisor with the Kerry campaign just joined us. He’ll be taking your questions about what a Kerry administration would mean for education policy.

Let me remind you that this is the second of two chats, and the transcript of our first chat with Sandy Kress, education advisor to President Bush, can be found here http://www.edweek.org/chat/ (free registration to our site is required to get to the page).

I’m Erik Robelen, a reporter here at Education Week, and will be the moderator today. We should have some answers shortly.

Question from David Kirpatrick:
Senator Kerry seems to pay for a lot of proposals by rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthy. What happens if his health care plan goes over his estimates ? Where will he get the funding to pay for all these education programs?

Robert Gordon:
Thanks, David, for the great question. I’d also like to thank EdWeek for giving us this space. This is a great service, and a great forum to discuss Senator Kerry’s plans for education. Senator Kerry pays for some of his proposals by rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthy, but he pays for other proposals in other ways. Take his service plan to enable young people who serve our country for two years to be able to go to a four-year public university tuition-free. That proposal is paid for by reforms in the student loan system that stop lenders from getting inflated subsidies that are set by Congress, and instead require lenders to compete for the right to make student loans.

You ask a good question about what happens if the numbers don’t add up. The first answer is that we’re pretty confident they do. The estimate of health care spending used by Senator Kerry isn’t one that he made up; it was provided by a rigorous independent expert. Of course you can’t predict the future, and if proposals turn out not to fit within the budget framework, we’re committed to scaling them back as necessary. As you heard the other night, Senator Kerry has a firm commitment not to raise taxes for people who make less than $200,000 a year.

Question from Barbara Bray, Educational Consultant, My eCoach:
NCLB focuses on scientifically-based research, basic skills, and testing. Will Kerry look into increasing funding for research and development on teaching practice and professional development where teachers learn how to encourage inquiry-based classrooms, critical thinking, and project-based learning that deepens understanding of concepts and prepares students with 21st century skills?

Robert Gordon:
Senator Kerry believes that investing in research and development in education is a key federal role. The issues that you have highlighted are critical ones, as schools strive to implement standards without narrowing instruction. We need to do more research related to the best practices in this area and the Department of Education also needs to do a better job disseminating what we already know on this front. Senator Kerry will work to ensure that the main agency directing education research -- the Institute of Education Sciences – receives sufficient funding and that substantial research dollars are focused on the issues that you mention. He also will work to ensure that the Department of Education gets that information into the hands of educators in a way that they can use.

Question from Heidi Maier, Ed.S.; Kindergarten Teacher, Marion County, Florida:
Mr. Gordon; Greetings! Please explain Mr. Kerry’s position on early childhood education. It is less expensive to fund early education “NOW” than to fund prisons “LATER”. Thank you, Heidi

Robert Gordon:
Thanks Heidi, great question. Senator Kerry has a strong, lifelong commitment to early childhood education. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard him say on the stump (and I’m paraphrasing) that we have to learn that it’s smarter to invest $10,000 now in Head Start, Early Start, or Smart Start than to pay $50,000 later to keep someone in prison. And so he is committed to doing as much as we possibly can to expand early childhood opportunities. At a personal level, I know he wants to see America someday be able to offer high-quality, voluntary early education opportunities to every parent. He’s a strong supporter of Head Start, and opposes the Bush Administration’s proposals to begin eliminating Head Start’s high standards in the process of sending the program to the states. In the Senate he coauthored legislation with Senator Bond, later incorporated in measures that became law, that helps states to strengthen their own early education programs. As President, he will be committed to expanding early childhood education opportunities as much as he possibly can, recognizing that unfortunately the Bush Administration has sunk America into an unprecedented fiscal hole.

Question from alan m kunerth, grandfather, the Greatest Generation:
The Manhattan and Urban Institutes say that only 71% of kids are graduating from public high schools.

What do you plan to do about that ?

Robert Gordon:
Great question, Mr. Kunerth. Aren’t those figures shocking? What’s even more troubling is that only about half of African-American and Latino youths are graduating. As a country, we have to do better. It’s wrong for those kids, and it’s wrong for America because of all of the potential we are losing as a country.

Senator Kerry has outlined a series of steps to help 1 million more young people graduate over the next five years. If you’re so inclined, I’d encourage you to take a look at the webpage, www.johnkerry.com, under Education and then under K-12 Education, where you’ll find a link to the whole plan. But in short, Senator Kerry would: (1) improve education beginning in kindergarten, because one of the biggest problems is that kids arrive in high school without the skills they need; (2) expand tutoring and mentoring programs that not only help young people finish high school, but challenge them to go on to college; (3) increase literacy education, because many high school students unfortunately don’t have the most basic skills to finish; (4) break up big high schools that are failing into smaller units where teachers and guidance counselors will have a better chance to keep up with children and know how they are doing; and (5) hold schools accountable for improving graduation rates. NCLB contains provisions designed to do this, but the Bush Administration unfortunately has done a poor job enforcing them.

Question from Sherry Shuford, Teacher, Catawba County Schools:
Students today are tested more than any previous generation. Many people believe that our students are only learning how to circle in the bubbles on the test. How does Senator Kerry view the assessment of student portfolios as opposed to a standardized test?

Robert Gordon:
Thanks Sherry. Testing is an important measure of schools’ and students’ progress, but we can’t turn our schools into testing factories where teachers and students just worry about tests all day long. As you say, one of the big problems has been the low quality of tests that many schools and teachers are forced to administer—tests that just get kids to fill in bubbles, put a priority on memorization, and don’t measure the whole range of skills that students need and teachers want to teach. That’s why we need much more nuanced tests that consider the full range of talents that we want students to learn. And assessment of student portfolios is a serious approach that ought to be given much more careful consideration in that context. Unfortunately, good tests don’t come cheap—-they cost more to develop and more to administer. The Government Accountability Office did a study showing that high-quality tests could cost $3 billion more than low-quality tests over just five years. One consequence of the current underfunding of No Child Left Behind--$27 billion in four years—is that states don’t have the money to develop and implement the kinds of high-quality tests that teachers and students deserve. This is one of the reasons that “fully funding No Child Left Behind” is not just a slogan—it is critical so that this law actually works for our young people.

Question from Regina L. Siquieros, American Indian Language Development Institute Program Coordinator, University of Arizona:
How aware are you of the indigenous population and can you address how you will handle the recent education issues such as the NCLB, English Only,etc. affecting us as indigenous people?

Robert Gordon:
Indigenous populations have a unique history and a unique status in the United States. Tribes are sovereigns, and the United States government, including the Department of Education, must work with tribes in a government-to-government relationship based on mutual respect. Regarding education in particular, tribes face unique challenges because American Indian schools are so often underfunded and so often far from the resources of big cities. The children often come from homes with a deep sense of responsibility, but also with special challenges due to high levels of poverty and unemployment. John Kerry is committed to providing the resources that American Indian schools need, including supports for impact aid and rural education programs that the Bush Administration has tried to cut. He is committed to ensuring that not only broadband access, but also the technology to use that access, is available in our American Indian schools. He has offered detailed initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and afterschool programs in American Indian schools. And he is committed to strongly supporting bilingual education programs based on the methods that have proven most successful in the community. John Kerry believes that when we say we will leave no child left behind, we have to mean it and include every child in the United States.

Go to Part 2

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