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McCain and Obama Advisers on Spec Ed, NCLB, and Funding


Sen. John McCain will be filling in the blanks in his education plan in a "little bit" with proposals on prekindergarten, college access and affordability, and special education, top education adviser Lisa Graham Keegan told the National Conference of State Legislators today in New Orleans.

While my colleague was covering an Obama event, I'm was here in the Big Easy listening to a forum on the education ideas of the presidential candidates, starring Keegan and Linda Darling-Hammond (on behalf of Obama).

There was very little that hasn't been said before, either by the candidates themselves, or their advisers. But I'll hit on the highlights:

* Keegan wouldn't address questions about early education or college, saying McCain was getting ready to talk in more details about his plans for such programs.

* I heard more than I have ever heard before about special education from the two advisers. Keegan, who noted that McCain's wife, Cindy, was a special education teacher, said the Arizona senator was going to address the issues of the federal special education law (IDEA) and its funding in upcoming remarks. She said he's very supportive of it, but also realizes that if schools did a better job of teaching reading, then fewer students would be referred to special education, thus saving those dollars for those students who really need it. She reiterated McCain's support for research into autism-spectrum disorders. Darling-Hammond said Obama wants to quadruple the number of Head Start slots to help address this issue, and fully fund IDEA.

*To the question of what, exactly, Obama means when he dabbles in supporting merit-pay programs—a touchy subject for Democrats—Darling-Hammond was evasive about whether he would use test scores. She was evasive until Keegan stepped in and asked her point-blank if he opposes using any test score whatsoever. Darling-Hammond hemmed and hawed, but ended up saying he would support using test scores as part of multiple measures to gauge teacher performance.

*Legislators got a chance to ask several questions, and were most curious about their stances on additional funding for NCLB and for special education. Obama is all for spending more money on NCLB and special education (Darling-Hammond noted that his $18 billion education price tag is less than the cost of one month in Iraq). But Keegan said money is not the answer—that the federal government has increased its spending nearly 50 percent over pre-NCLB levels, yet students, especially poor and minority, are still failing in alarming numbers.



What is wrong with hemming and hawing on an issue as complicated as testing? Darling-Hammond just made me more comfortable with the way they will approach multiple assessments, or try to.

In your previous post you wrote:

Obama believes a federal accountability system could measure students' reading and math skills while not narrowing the curriculum to those areas.

"It's a false choice," the Denver-area principal said. "There's a way to do both."

Clearly, there is bound to be "a way" to do both, and we "could" come out with a better accountability system. I wouldn't bet on it, but it could happen. I'm more hopeful that we will get a marginally better accountability system that is just one piece in the puzzle, and we will get much better leadership from the president and his advisors.

The biggest problems aren't testing or accountability or national mandates. The biggest problem is true-believers who think they can impose their vision on everyone. I'm looking forward to a veteran of the nitty-gritty of Chicago politics. You could take the exact same NCLB, and if its was implemented by Obama and his people, it would have had a better up-side and far fewer down-sides. But I'm still hopeful that we can get rid the worst of NCLB accountability, but I am sure that the Obama people will show more wisdom and modesty when approaching the ultimate people issue.

I meant Michelle,

I was just trying to prove that education is a people business by demonstrating that "to err is human ..."
Since the computer program probably won't let me post thing, I can now offer proof to the collolary "but to really screw thing up takes a computer."

John's salutation mistake is timely, for me, since I was going to complain about the lack of a byline on the email version of Campaign K-12. It is very odd to have references to "I" and "my colleague" without knowing who either "I" or "my colleague" is.... As to hemming and hawing, it's not necessarily the result of being presented with a "false choice" or a "complicated" issue. It might be what happens when an opinionated educator is asked to be a politician.

It may be true that the war in Iraq in Afghanistan is costing the federal government approximately $18 billion per month. However, very little, if any, of that spending is 'on-budget.' Rather, dollars needed to fund the war are classified as emergency spending and are thus outside of the regular budget for the federal government. I would then argue that the statement Darling-Hammond gave regarding war funding and funding for Head Start and IDEA is flawed. Unless Senator Obama plans to drastically cut current federal programs or plans to continue deficit spending, the $18 billion will never materialize. It is a false promise to voters.

John, with all due respect, I expect better from one of Sen. Obama's designees than to hem and haw. Clearly, Ms. Darling-Hammond is an expert in her field, otherwise she wouldn't hold the post that she does. Do not let her hide behind a non-answer just because the issue is "complicated."

Concretely, what would presidential, or Congressional support for merit pay mean? Federally funded bonuses? Or mandates making Federal funding contingent on a specific compensation structure?

More and more, I see the logic in Diane Ravitch's view that the Federal government should set some basic standards, and an assessment structure, and let states and districts figure out how to meet them.

Much of the current debate seems to point towards Congress making fairly micro-level decisions on things like compensation structure, but still insisting that schools should be held responsible for the results.

Who is Lisa Graham Keegan? I actually have heard of and respect Linda Darling-Hammond who is well known and respected in education circles. I have also heard Senator Obama himself discuss special education at an informal discussion at a Denver elementary school earlier in the race, and Biden's wife actually is a teacher and not an heiress. I didn't know that McCain's second wife was a special education teacher - was it in a public school? That would make me respect her more as I was a public school special education teacher in a school where 20% of the students (rightly or wrongly) were identified to receive special education services making my classrooms often larger than the general education classrooms and allowing me to see first-hand the miseducation of our students (primarily African-American and Hispanic-American students), which is why I support the funded version of NCLB and I know that the background was actually laid with Clinton and Education 2000. Let's pay more attention educators, we are supposed to be the scholars!

The Republican policies regarding education have not worked...That's the real issue...No Child Left Behind needs to be scrapped. It is a testing bill designed to support alternative private tutorial companies and schools. Real education is well rounded and works with the child's physical and mental state in every possible aspect. This is accomplished by teaching the following: The liberal arts, the dramatic arts, the musical arts, history, philosophy, psychology, political science-civics for an informed citizenry, etc.
Testing should be a way that teachers can adjust instruction not punish teachers and schools by identifying them as "failing". If you consider McCain, this is what you will get and that is a public education system constituency that will not be very intelligent because the focus will only be on Reading/Language Arts and Mathematics.
Last comment: When a student is motivated to learn, he or she will easily learn Reading/Language Arts and Mathematics despite learning the other subjects......check the research on schools that infuse arts with the regular curriculum.

Did I miss McCain's plan. Does he have one, or will it be more of the same, the failed No Child Left Behind Act.

Why is Obama's plan posted, but McCain's isn't?

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