Monday, January 26, 2004

NH, NCLB and the candidates

Although the spotlight is largely off education and NCLB in this exciting primary race, passing references to NCLB now reflect a very different mindset since last November.

Democratic candidates, with the exception of Lieberman, are now striving to mirror Dean's gold standard as NCLB backlash begins to rise throughout the nation, most recently in Virginia. While Lieberman unequivocably supports NCLB, the rest of the candidates now sport strongly critical stances.

Keeping in mind that the DLC supports NCLB, what do the candidates really mean behind their soundbites?

Echoing Dean, Kucinich supports repeal of NCLB. Kucinich's response in the last NH debate:
    GRIFFITH (WMUR anchor): Congressman Kucinich, let me get very local with you for a minute, if I can. We here in New Hampshire, of course, some of our school districts are having trouble meeting the testing standards of No Child Left Behind, which apparently you did vote for, you were in favor of, I believe. Is that correct?
    Our education commissioner recently said that we can't really settle on what is a very narrow and strict determination of the student's progress. What would you do, at this point, with No Child Left Behind? Would you throw it out? And if you would, what would you replace it with?
    KUCINICH: The answer to your question is, yes, I would.
    And what I would replace it with is a new educational structure where the focus would be on helping to bring forth the creativity of our children, in stressing arts and language, music; to invite the participation of educational philosophers and psychologists and administrators and teachers and parents and children; to take a new focus on our education, to stop this incessant direction of trying to make our nation of test-takers, of putting the pressure on teachers to teach to the test, and then school districts depending on the results of those tests for their funding.
    No Child Left Behind has not worked out the way that anyone thought it would. And what has happened is, it's become an unfunded mandate. It has become a misdirection of the way education ought to be in America.
    I would have a universal pre-kindergarten program where children can go to school beginning at age 3, a fully funded elementary and secondary education act, and free college tuition for all America's young people.
Sounds absolutely wonderful but expensive. He goes even farther than Dean.

The rest of the candidates boast strong but empty words.

Clark's response, as reported byPacific John in his dKos diary , dated December 2003:
    WC: I'm going to get rid of No Child Left Behind.
    Q: Totally? Scrap the whole piece of legislation?
    WC: I think there's so many things wrong with No Child Left Behind: a) it's not funded, b) it tests the wrong things, c) it doesn't measure the right things in the tests, d) it disqualifies qualified education personnel, e) it's fundamentally designed to punish and humiliate public schools and deprive the public of confidence in their schools. It's a bad piece of legislation. It's a Trojan Horse bill. We're going to take care of it.
I'd like to see this clarity displayed on his website.

Edwards' response:
    Asked during the Jan. 4 debate to "own up quickly to a mistake you've made in the past," Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina pointed to his vote for the No Child Left Behind Act.
    "We put too much faith in a Bush administration administering that policy," he said, "and it's clear that there are changes that need to be made, changes in the standards."
However, Edwards' prescription for NCLB is uncomfortably vague especially in regards to "flexibility". Keep that in mind whenever he uses that word.

Regarding Kerry :
    Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, another of the Democratic presidential contenders, has criticized what he calls the law's "one size fits all" approach.
Since it's not clear to me how he plans to change NCLB from his website, I don't quite trust him on this.

In NH, senior Senator Judd Gregg helped lead the passage of NCLB through Congress. However, like other states, NH is experiencing a NCLB backlash.

Since NH has no sales or income tax, the bulk of educational funding derives from property taxes, already seen by many as too high. The cost of NCLB looks positively frightening.
    ... a recent study by the New Hampshire School Administrators Association estimated that even with the funding increases, the federal government will give New Hampshire schools only about $80 for every student, while costing the state $575 a student to implement NCLB. NCLB requires more of schools than the federal government ever has in the history of its involvement in education. NCLB demands more testing, improved teacher quality, and higher achievement scores that in turn require better-trained teachers and principals, new and improved textbooks and assessments, and increased individualized instructional time. These changes will not come cheap.

While I would argue for a closer look at each candidate's policy on education and NCLB, NH primary voters will probably focus on more obvious differences to determine their final choice.

However, in the fall, the Democratic nominee will have a wonderful opportunity to exploit a real vulnerability as voters begin to realize how drastically this federal law affects their local school.

As Ruy Texeira argues in his excellent post recently:
    Bush is acutely vulnerable on the education issue and it?s likely to be a liability for him in 2004, if Democrats play their cards right.

Cross posted to The American Street and my dKos Diary.