Fact Check: Obama Ad: ‘What Kind’

By Alyson Klein — September 15, 2008 4 min read

Announcer: When they grow up, will the economy be strong enough? Barack Obama understands what it takes. Make America number one in education again. John McCain doesn’t understand. John McCain voted to cut education funding. Against accountability standards. He even proposed abolishing the Department of Education. And John McCain’s economic plan gives 200 billion more to special interests while taking money away from public schools. We can’t afford more of the same.


Some of the assertions in this ad rely on fairly old votes or statements by Sen. John McCain, although the ad’s points about the Republican nominee’s plans to hold tight on spending aren’t too far off the mark.

Sen. Barack Obama’s television commercial.

To support the point that Sen. McCain voted against “accountability standards,” the Obama campaign cites congressional votes from as far back as 1999 on amendments to various education bills that sought to encourage states to hold schools accountable for student achievement. But the ad is misleading because it doesn’t acknowledge that in 2001, Sen. McCain voted in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal law that greatly increased accountability requirements for the nation’s schools. And the Arizona Republican has voiced support for accountability on the presidential-campaign trail, although he hasn’t put forth a specific proposal for renewing the NCLB law.

For the charge that Sen. McCain “proposed” abolishing the federal Education Department, the Obama campaign cites an interview the senator did with CNN’s “Late Edition”—14 years ago. According to a CNN transcript of the 1994 show, Sen. McCain said he would “favor doing away” with the department.

At the time, getting rid of the Education Department was an often-expressed idea among conservative Republicans, but it isn’t one that Sen. McCain has advocated during his presidential bid.

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McCain, Obama Spar on Education

The Obama campaign cites votes as recent as the 2006 federal budget resolution to support the ad’s contention that Sen. McCain has voted to cut education funding, as well as some votes in which the senator voted with other Republicans against certain increases in federal education spending.

The ad says Sen. McCain’s plan would “take away money from schools.” The Republican nominee proposes freezing discretionary spending for most domestic programs, including education, until he can complete a top-to-bottom review of federal programs. Many advocates say level-funding of programs such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students amounts to a cut, since rising inflation and enrollment would result in less money per child.

Fact Check: McCain Ad: ‘Education’

Announcer: Education Week says Obama “hasn’t made a significant mark on education.” That he’s “elusive” on accountability. A “staunch defender of the existing public school monopoly.” Obama’s one accomplishment? Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners. Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.


Sen. John McCain’s television commercial.

The ad’s opening line that Sen. Barack Obama “hasn’t made a significant mark on education” does indeed come from an Education Week story published March 7, 2007. The story made that assessment about Mr. Obama’s eight years in the Illinois Senate and then-two years in the U.S. Senate. But the story’s broader context was that Mr. Obama had gained experience on education issues, particularly teacher quality and leadership development, while leading Chicago’s portion of the Annenberg Challenge School Reform Initiative for three years beginning in 1995.

Meanwhile, Education Week has written other stories saying that Sen. McCain has generally sidestepped education in favor of other issues he’s been more closely identified with in his Senate career, such as campaign finance and foreign policy.

The quotes describing Sen. Obama’s record on accountability and “the public school monopoly” come, respectively, from The Washington Post (in an editorial that was also critical of Sen. McCain) and the Chicago Tribune (in an op-ed column by Steve Chapman). While images in the ad cite those newspapers, the casual listener might believe, based on the wording of the script, that all the assertions stem from Education Week reporting.

See Also

Return to the main story,

McCain, Obama Spar on Education

The ad is most misleading in its description of the sex education bill. While Sen. Obama supported the bill in the Illinois legislature, he wasn’t one of its sponsors. The bill, which passed at the committee level but did not become law, would have required comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for children in kindergarten through grade 12. The primary purpose of the program for younger children would have been to educate them about sexual predators. And parents could have asked to have their children excused from the program.

In calling that state bill Sen. Obama’s “one accomplishment” on school policy, the ad overlooks a federal bill Sen. Obama introduced last year authorizing money for grants to create “teacher residency programs,” which allow universities and school districts to partner in giving prospective teachers beefed-up field experiences and support. The program was included in the renewal of the Higher Education Act, which Congress passed this summer.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week as Obama Ad: ‘What Kind’


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