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A U.S. Senate Race to Watch


Hoping to hear a lively - and maybe even substantive - debate between two federal candidates over the future of the No Child Left Behind Act? You might be in luck ... if you live in Minnesota. Mike Ciresi, a laywer who was vying with the comedian Al Franken, at right, for a chance to take on Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, dropped out of the Democratic primary race this week, putting Franken in a strong position to win his party's nomination. That means we might start hearing a real discussion on NCLB in the general election campaign because it seems that Franken and Coleman could not be further apart on the issue.

Coleman has demonstrated his support for a strong federal accountablity system that keeps the law's major tenets intact. He was one of three sponsors of a bill that would largely implement the recommendations of the Aspen Institute's Commission on the Future of NCLB. Sen. Coleman's bill would permit some new flexiblity in the law (mostly broadly supported ideas such as growth models). But it also would call on the National Assesment Governing Board to develop a (voluntary) system of national standards and tests.

And it would call for states to set up longitudinal-data systems that tracked individual student progress, and link that performance to teachers and programs. States would be required to develop a definition of highly effective teachers that relies chiefly on student achievement.

Franken, on the other hand, says on his campaign Web site that the law needs to be "dramatically reformed or scrapped altogether." He says he'd like to see states be allowed to use student portfolios to measure progress, among other signficant changes.

The federal law is likely to be an issue in the Senate race. Minnesota's congressional delegation opposed NCLB even back in 2001, when the law had broad, bipartisan support in Congress. Nearly every member of the Minnesota congressional delegation voted against final passage NCLB. (The lone expection was Rep. Bill Luther, a Democrat, who is recorded as Not Voting).

The Senate race is going to be closely watched nationwide, in part because Minnesota is a swing state and Coleman is considered a vulnerable incumbent... and in part because, well, Franken is a former Saturday Night Live cast member and writer, and radio talk show host on the liberal Air America network. Who doesn't want to see what Stuart Smalley is like on the stump?

Here's hoping all that attention helps fuel a national debate on NCLB ...

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