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Democratic Field Turns to Education

By Mark Walsh — August 28, 2007 1 min read
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Slowly but surely, the presidential debates are getting around to more questions about education.

George Stephanopoulos, the moderator of the recent Democratic debate in Iowa on his Sunday-morning ABC News show, “This Week,” told the candidates that education is “an issue that hasn’t been discussed enough in these debates so far.”

A question about performance pay for teachers gave the eight Democratic contenders a bit of running room.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said at the Aug. 19 debate, held at Drake University in Des Moines, that she has long supported “incentive pay for schoolwide performance.”

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Watch clips from the Democratic debate in Iowa.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois repeated his call for a system of performance pay for “master teachers” who are helping newer, younger teachers, as long as the teachers themselves “have some buy-in in terms of how they’re measured.”

Their Delaware colleague Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. floated an apparently novel idea: Start with performance-based pay “at the front end” by offering higher pay to strong-performing undergraduate students who want to become teachers. Such students who seek to teach mathematics or science, Sen. Biden suggested, should receive the same starting salaries as new engineers.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico proposed a minimum wage of $40,000 a year for teachers. But, as did some of the other candidates, he quickly turned his focus to the No Child Left Behind Act.

“I also have a one-point plan, like I do on Iraq, on No Child Left Behind: Scrap it,” he said. “It’s a mess; it’s a disaster.”

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut said the federal law shouldn’t be reauthorized without fundamental changes.

Marc Lampkin, the executive director of Strong American Schools, a group promoting education as an issue in the presidential campaign, said he was pleased with the extent of the attention in the debate.

“The candidates have really been bursting at the seams” to discuss education, Mr. Lampkin said. “We were heartened to see that the media finally popped the question, and it was one the candidates were willing to engage on and for which they had differences of opinion.”

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