Thursday, July 22, 2004

Education could be a potent election year issue

So is education an election year issue? My short answer: it could be but it's not.

Too bad, because education could easily be an extraordinarily potent election year issue. The most powerful weapon the Dems could use is deliberately not in play. That would be, of course, opposition to NCLB.

Case in point: Florida.

Florida has been going through testing hell: they've got dual standardized testing programs providing conflicting messages about whether kids are putatively getting an excellent education or not. It's going to get worse over the summer.

WaPo has a summary, and it doesn't look good.
Those two programs -- one federal and one state -- are on a collision course this summer. That's when new test results could show that many of state's schools pass the Florida A+ standards while failing to show sufficient improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind rules. Failing to make progress on the federal standards would require the state to let the parents of students in failing schools transfer their children to better-performing alternatives.

Ninety-four percent of Florida's schools passed the state standards but only 13 percent passed the federal ones, according to a recent press release from Jim Davis, the Democratic congressman who represents Tampa and St. Petersburg. More than a few educators in Florida are worried that massive transfers could destroy the public education system in the state.

"I've said to the DOE and to the federal government that if you really tried to implement No Child Left Behind in Florida to the fullest extent as by the law it would cause total chaos in the state," said Frank Till, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, the fifth largest district in the country. "There's no way you can find space for the kids at 1,700 schools."
If you take WaPo for it's word, you might believe education, as an election year issue, is taken seriously by the Dems.
Although there are no current polls ranking important issues, most political experts here say education will be toward the top of the list, along with health care and homeland security, and right behind Iraq and the economy. In recent weeks, political television ads focusing on education have followed visits from Kerry, Bush, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie - visits that all focused on education.

"It's going to be a big issue, just as it was [in the governor's race] in 2002," said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Allie Merzer. "Both Bush administrations have failed Florida's students incredibly."
Note: education in general is being discussed; however, NCLB is not (unlike the Democratic primaries, but that might have been due to other pressures).

If you check out any Kerry stuff on education (their site, their ads), and while I'm not privy to Florida's ads, I doubt they would be different, Kerry essentially sidesteps all issues regarding NCLB save for one. His standard answer: it needs more funding. On the other hand, he wants to help teachers. He wants to improve high school graduation rates. He wants to help college kids. All good stuff but zip, zero, nada on any detailed NCLB issue such as the code words, accountability and proficiency.

WaPo continues with evidence that NCLB really is making a huge negative impact on the states's voters and how parents are organizing against NCLB mandates.
Among the criticisms of NCLB in Florida -- opponents say that it de-emphasizes important subjects such as history and it is an unfunded federal mandate -- perhaps the most frequent and politically volatile is the charge that both tests are culturally biased. Many parents and activists are aghast at the numbers of African American and Hispanic students who are being held back or kept from graduating by failing scores on the FCAT. In heavily minority Miami-Dade County alone, according to a recent report by the Miami Herald, about 9,100 third graders -- or about 29 percent -- failed the FCAT and could be held back. Critics say the ultimate goal of A+ and NCLB is the undermining of public education and the advocacy of vouchers.

A group led by Victor T. Curry, the well-known pastor of Miami's New Birth Baptist Church, is calling for a boycott of Florida's tourism and citrus industries until A+ is changed or repealed.

Curry, who is also president of the city's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has also worked with another vocal critic, state Sen. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Miami), to organize protests against education policies at the state capitol in Tallahassee and at Florida International University in Miami.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution for teaching children," said Wilson, who is African American. "I've seen children with 3.0 grade averages and activities and public service who have failed the FCAT and did not receive a diploma."
The fact is: opposition to NCLB cuts across party lines. Utahns dislike NCLB, and Utah is redder than red. If pushed, NCLB might be able to draw voters from the other side. Hey, this could make a difference in a battleground state. Imagine that.

As an aside, the Republicans have a totally different problem with NCLB. They are being blamed for NCLB problems, rightly so; their tactic is to go for the high road, use code words , and perhaps pray people believe their tripe.

And why is NCLB being downplayed? My take would get me into lots of trouble on the dkos diaries. Short answer: a certain corporate friendly anti-union Dem faction was actively involved in crafting NCLB along side the Repubs. Remember it was a bipartisan affair, and, not surprisingly, this faction still supports NCLB. Strongly. It's their baby, for goodness' sake. These guys are sitting pretty this election year because the way things are going, no candidate is voicing any effective criticism of NCLB. The way the two parties are acting evokes Nader's words: doesn't matter who you elect, you've got the same agenda. And fear of Dubya being elected I think has muted any criticism of the Dems in this department. Too bad for the kids.

Times like this makes me miss Dean. I will reiterate: I will vote for Kerry. But this dance around NCLB is extremely disappointing.