Although the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination has been under way in earnest for a couple of months now, most of the candidates have been largely silent about their views on the No Child Left Behind Act.
But late last month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the current front-runner, sharply criticized the federal education law in a speech to teachers from her state. She said it has narrowed schools’ curricula and relies too heavily on standardized tests at the expense of student creativity.
“We can all agree that we do need measures,” Sen. Clinton told the New York State United Teachers’ annual convention in Washington on April 27. “We do need accountability. But not the kind of accountability that the NCLB law has imposed on people. Not only has it been funded at less than has been promised, it’s been administered with a heavy and arbitrary hand.”
“It’s time we had a president who cares more about learning than about memorizing,” she added. “The tests have become the curriculum instead of the other way around.”
The crowd of about 3,000 at the Washington Hilton erupted into thunderous applause.
Sen. Clinton voted for the bipartisan No Child Left Behind measure in 2001. As a formal presidential candidate since January, she has yet to release any detailed proposals for overhauling the law, which is due for reauthorization this year.
The 575,000-member NYSUT, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, has been highly critical of the law, calling for it to be more flexible and less punitive.
While Sen. Clinton gave her audience—some of whom hissed at the mere mention of No Child Left Behind—plenty to cheer about, she reasserted her support for charter schools, to the chagrin of some.
Sen. Clinton’s remarks on the law may be shaped by a need to appeal to the most active members of the Democratic base, many of whom are educators, said Jack Jennings, a veteran aide to House Democrats who now heads the Center for Education Policy, a Washington research and advocacy organization. But he said it can be tough to predict policy changes from presidential-campaign speeches.
“Sometimes the rhetoric goes beyond the amendments” to the law a candidate would make, Mr. Jennings said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2007 edition of Education Week