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How Will Education Play at the Democratic National Convention?

By Alyson Klein — September 03, 2012 3 min read
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Charlotte, N.C.

The Democrats officially nominate their presidential standard-bearer here this week, with the convention officially kicking off tomorrow. And, unlike four years ago at the party’s convention in Denver—when everyone was trying to read the K-12 tea leaves on the Democratic nominee—we now know a lot about President Barack Obama and where he stands on education policy.

The big question going into this week’s Democratic National Convention: What pieces of the president’s K-12 record will the campaign focus on? And how will that play to the very different parts of a divided Democratic party?

Flashback to last week and the GOP’s convention in Tampa, Fla.: The Republican Party showed some splits of its own when it comes to K-12 policy. Behind the scenes in Tampa, it was clear that there wasn’t a lot of agreement on big questions, like whether there should even be a U.S. Department of Education, and whether the GOP should embrace the Common Core State Standards.

But on the Republican stage, the few speakers who talked about education—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—stuck to the two issues pretty much everyone in the party can agree on: that school choice is good and that teachers’ unions are bad. Those are also the two issues where the GOP contrasts most sharply with Obama—and the ones GOP nominee Mitt Romney hits hardest in his education plan.

So far, Obama’s re-election campaign seems to be taking a similar approach of rallying the base and seeking to downplay the differences of opinion. The handful of education-centric commercials the campaign has produced emphasize the one position where pretty much all Democrats are united: that deep cuts to federal education spending that could result from the budget proposed by GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan would be very, very bad for schools, kids, and college access.

What’s not getting nearly as much airtime on the trail: Obama’s push for teacher evaluation and expanding charter schools, and his very aggressive and controversial school turnaround program,.

So how much will we hear about those things in Charlotte?

We should have plenty of opportunities to find out. There is some great stuff going on this week for education nerds. The convention list includes folks with a range of perspectives on education:

• Denise Juneau, the state chief in Montana, whose state has bucked some of the Obama administration’s most significant K-12 policy moves (including waivers);

• Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, who is now locked in a battle with his city’s teachers union;

• U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California, one of the first in her party to trash the School Improvement Grant program, an Obama K-12 priority; and

• Newark Mayor Cory Booker, one of the very few Democrats in the country who openly and enthusiastically supports vouchers.

And on Tuesday, Democrats for Education Reform, which supports candidates are fans of alternative pay, charter schools, and other “get tough” measures, is holding an event just down the street from a reception thrown by the National Education Association/American Federation of Teachers. In fact, they’re practially right next to each other. (Will there be a “West Side Story"-style dancing street fight? We’ll be blogging it all.)

Joining the Alyson Half of Politics K-12 in Charlotte will be two fantastic Edweek reporters—Sean Cavanagh, of Charters & Choice blog fame, and Andrew Ujifusa, the brains behind State Ed Watch. Follow us on Twitter at @EdweekSCavanagh, @StateEdWatch and of course, @PoliticsK-12.

And a big huge thanks and shout-out to Nirvi Shah (@nirvishah) for her incredible work in Tampa last week. She followed the youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention, spoke to one of folks who helped spur Mitt Romney’s fondness for English immersion, interviewed Tennessee Gov. Haslam, and looked at how the convention was playing in the classroom. Must reads!

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