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Who Speaks for Obama? Just Asking.

By David J. Hoff — October 09, 2008 1 min read
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Now I know what people at “Georgetown cocktail parties” are talking about.

At the American Enterprise Institute yesterday, education’s man-about-town Rick Hess said the chattering class is wondering which of Sen. Barack Obama’s many education advisers gives the true portrait of what the Democratic presidential candidate would do on education. The most glaring example, he said, is that the Obama team includes many supporters of Teach for America, but also Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor who has been critical of the program.

Michael Johnston, who was at AEI on behalf of the Obama campaign for a forum on the presidential candidates’ ideas on social entrepreneurship, acknowledged that Rick asked a good question.

Obama’s modus operandi is to seek advice from people with differing points of view, said Johnston, the principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts near Denver and a former TFAer.

“At the end of the day, he makes decisions based on what he thinks is important,” said Johnston, who helped start New Leaders for New Schools with Jonathan Schnur—one of Obama’s team.

In particular, Johnston pointed to Obama’s Sept. 9 speech on education in Riverside, Ohio. The Democrat went to a state where charter schools have been controversial, particularly among teachers’ unions, and stated that he would double federal funding for charter schools, Johnston said.

The answer didn’t satisfy Lisa Graham Keegan, who has been the primary spokeswoman on education for the McCain campaign.

“I’ve had the opportunity to debate about seven different people,” said Keegan, the former Arizona schools chief said. (I counted at least six.) In particular, Darling-Hammond’s message hasn’t been consistent with other advisers on whether Obama supports linking teacher pay to students’ test scores.

“I’m going to tell you right now, she’s not going to say what you’re saying unless you all have had a come to Jesus moment,” Keegan told Johnston.

What matters, Johnston said, is what Sen. Obama has said.

“The proof of that is in the words of the senator and the platform,” he said.

With all of that in mind, I encourage you to watch an Oct. 21 debate between Keegan and Darling-Hammond, which edweek.org will Webcast live from Teachers College in New York City. We all can meet in a Georgetown bar on Oct. 22 and talk about it.

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