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Miller Optimistic About Obama and NCLB’s Future

August 28, 2008 2 min read
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The final day of the Democratic National Convention has been low-key. The calendar of events was long on receptions and short on policy seminars. Everyone’s waiting for Barack Obama’s speech tonight.

This morning, I talked with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee seemed excited—almost giddy—about Obama’s candidacy.

Miller endorsed Obama shortly after the Illinois senator lost the New Hampshire primary—a time when many Democrats were waiting to see which way the political winds would blow. “I figured: ‘Hey, I gotta add something to the pot here,” he said, as we waited for the event where he was the guest speaker to begin.

Miller said he met Obama through Sen. Richard Durbin, the other senator from Illinois and one of the tenants of Miller’s Capitol Hill rowhouse. Obama occasionally came over for a dinner of takeout Chinese food and to talk about issues with Miller and his roommates. Miller was impressed by Obama’s knowledge of educational issues, particularly on the No Child Left Behind Act.

“He understands that the basic tenets of No Child Left Behind—high standards, assessments, accountability, highly qualified teachers, funding—are very important,” Miller said.

Obama took a nuanced position on the controversial law, saying its principles and goals are good, but some of it’s policies need to be fixed. Other candidates calculated “they could get a few points in the polls by bashing it,” Miller said. Then, they found that they had to “double back” and offer solutions to the problems facing schools.

Miller acknowledged that NCLB’s reauthorization won’t be a top priority for the next president. While the next administration—whether it’s John McCain’s or Barack Obama’s— addresses urgent issues such as foreign and economic policies, Miller plans to start a dialogue about how to fix the law.

Miller was optimistic about the prospects for the law. Last year, a discussion draft never advanced through the legislative process, largely because teachers’ unions lobbied against the draft’s experiments with performance pay.

“It’s not going to get hung up on performance pay,” Miller predicted.

I didn’t get to ask why he thought that. One of the event’s organizers complained that I was monopolizing the congressman’s time and whisked him away to talk to a reporter from the news organization co-sponsoring the event. (This was the reprimand that Michele tweeted at www.twitter.com/educationweek.)

I did sneak in two other quick questions as he left.

Will NCLB get a new name? “I’ve always said you get 100 votes if you change the name,” Miller said.

Would he like to be secretary of education in an Obama administration? “I love what I’m doing,” he responded.

--David J. Hoff

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