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Biden: Whoops, I Voted the Wrong Way on NCLB


Presumptive vice presidential nominee Joe Biden voted for NCLB, but now he regrets it.

The Delaware senator said in a presidential debate last year said he voted for the now controversial law in 2001 because he "has great faith in Ted Kennedy," the Massachusetts Democrat who led the effort to ensure its bipartisan passage.

It's time to start over on K-12 policy, Biden added.

I would scrap it—or I guess, theoretically, you could do a major overhaul. But I think I'd start from the beginning. You need better teachers. You need smaller classrooms. You need to start kids earlier. It's all basic.

Biden's comments are at the bottom of this debate transcript.

For a complete compilation of Biden's education statements during the primaries, see this summary from ontheissues.org.

By David J. Hoff


As a teacher who works directly for the NCLB Act I am deeply offended by your comments that we "need better teachers." I happen to hold a masters degree in teaching, endorsed in both Reading and Language Arts, and Social Studies and have spent much of my life dedicated to teaching the poor, underpriviledged children in urban Chicago. I work in some of the most dangerous areas of Chicago, hand-in-hand with the police, trying to educate, nurture and become a role model for these misguided, neglected youth. I am also a child advocate for abused and neglected children and truly believe in my heart that every child deserves a chance. The one good thing the Bush administration did was to pass the NCLB so at least some money was funneled to the schools in desperate need.

I agree with most of Sandra's comment.

I would add that NCLB was as much Ted Kennedy's and George Miller's baby as it was President Bush's.

As far as Joe Biden is concerned, the fact that he has "great faith in Ted Kennedy" is about as good a testament to his lack of judgment as anything John McCain could say about him.

Sandra's comment is heart-rending to all of us who work in schools, especially the idea that in this new century, she still must contend with these issues, and so must the children, on a daily basis. I understand that Illinois does not fund school districts equally, which is an immoral concept in itself. However, while California, for example, does provide equitable funding, that has still not solved urban problems; simply take a look at Los Angeles Unified.

Despite all of our best efforts at school reform over the past 40 years, we are still looking at failing kids and failing schools--and we still haven't figured out that our model of "factory schools," which built up to a stunningly bureaucratic level during the 20th century, is not working for the good of the kids, the teachers, or the country. The kind of care Sandra gives to her kids is what every kid across the country needs, and it is up to us, the education "grassroots," to demand a conceptual change that begins with new national policy.

I want to see equitable funding first of all, as the NEW requirement for federal aid to any state. And I want new national policy that REWARDS states and districts that successfuly DOWNSIZE the bureaucracy and create smaller, lighter, faster, more responsive, and more supportive schools for ALL kids. We have 40 years of research and demonstration to back that up, and I'm tired of hearing schools, teachers, parents, and kids blamed for a structural deficiency that we can fix. The first thing we need to do is spread the awareness that a new model is needed; then, we need to band together to demand the support of a new model at the national level. Join me at www.ChangeTheSchools.com if you want to read one person's platform for a reinvention of public ed, or, if you want to read the inside story in an entertaining format, check out the novel ANGEL PARK. It's the story of what's happening to kids, educators, and schools across the country, based on, you guessed it, a fictional microcosm of my own experiences. Don't forget, Sandra, that the policymakers and journalists have little real idea of what goes on in real schools. It's up to us to make them listen and then miraculously rise above their adversarial stance to make some changes that count!

Biden voted FOR NCLB.
How did Obama vote???
Oh yeah, he didn't vote one way or the other. He was back in Chicago.
If it takes three to five years for a teacher to become truly proficient as a teacher, how long does it take a legislator to become a statesman?

NCLB is nonsense. You can't Legislate the "Bell Curve" out of existence. There will always be the "little geniuses" at the left end of the curve and the "little dullards" at the right end of the curve. To punish the schools/teachers for the non-achievement of students on the right end of the curve makes no sense at all.

If NCLB works, why do 50% of entering college students start in "developmental courses" and remain there until they are "up to" the beginning freshman level of achievement?????????


Ten years ago, I took early retirement from teaching LD students in our public schools. I had reached my fill of endless inservices on new "standards-based" education. I was being prepared to do what I knew could not work: teach 8th grade content to students who lacked 3rd grade basic skills. I was working 60-70 hours weekly to prepare daily lesson plans for each of my 14 students (above established limits.) Those inservice hours could have been spent helping my students learn new skills.

It appeared the standards-based instruction and NCLB was about to trump IDEA/IDEIA rights for my students. Desparate parents rightly demanded to know how their son or daughter could ever hope to attain a "standard" diploma. They had enough sense to see the child would be unable to handle "regular classrooms" and "regular texts." They knew "what works," and they felt certain NCLB would not work for their child.

My students certainly didn't need a better teacher - they had a good teacher who was well qualified and who truly cared; but I could no longer remain to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. I entered private practice as an educational consultant to support parents and students who wanted to do what works.

The past ten years have confirmed my worst fears that the unique needs of many IDEA/IDEIA students could not being met under NCLB. Rigorous "accountability"programs have failed to provide an APPROPRIATE education promised to students under IDEA/IDEIA. Low passing rates of special ed students on AYP assessments prompt states to reformulate test standards or to "exempt" certain student group test scores.

In fact, there has been a rise in home schooling nationwide in recent years. Since NCLB was enacted, I've seen too many inappropriate IEP's that mimic state standards instead of remediating skills. My clients left public schools not because their child lacked a good teacher. Instead, they voted with their feet and left "inclusion" and a one-size-fits-all NCLB school system. These courageous parents wanted to reclaim a model of teaching that would allow them to meet individual needs.

NCLB has become a form of educational malpractice that harms a substantial fraction of our special needs students. It has failed many special needs children and their families, and there are too few public officials who can see it. I'm glad Joe Biden understands this reality.

I welcome a reformation of NCLB that would include special education guidelines that truly embrace best practices, welcome a truly appropriate IEP-driven placement/grouping for specific special needs, and once again provide effective instructional strategies and remediation of basic skills.

You are wrong Mr. Biden.

These are the things teachers need:

1. Start with repealing the NCLB Act, high stakes testing, and programs like Bush's Reading First Initiative.
2. Have administrators who ask, "What do you need to do your job better and how can I help you do that?
3. Get rid of the factory mentally currently applied to schools. Schools are not factories and the factory model is inappropriate for education.
4. Fund smaller class sizes so that we can address students’ needs more effectively and help students learn.
5. Support from the public. We do not need more teacher bashing. If you can read this, thank a teacher.
6. Have far less interference from politicians, business folks, and standardistos telling us what to do. We know what we need to do. We live and breathe teaching.
7. Fund schools in needy communities so that they are on a par with schools from upper income neighborhoods.
8. Have more opportunities for students to take courses in the arts.
9. Do not engage in behind the scenes manipulations among business, politicians, and special interests groups who think they have the answers and only want to line their pockets.
10. Provide a salary we can actually live on. Do you know that those in the home building industry make more money than teachers?
11. Give teachers the opportunity to shape our own in-service education programs.
12. Stop interfering with the "quick" fix. Schools should not be run by the quarterly report ala high stakes tests.
13. Free us from "bureaucratic" harassment. Just let us do our jobs.
14. Focus on what we do for humanity and understand that our students come from different homes, have different talents, interests, and abilities. Let us address student diversity instead of trying to make students all alike, an exercise in futility.
15. Stop developing standards by committee. This activity does not add value. Instead it is a waste of resources. We know what to do. Remember, we are the experts.
16. Understand that the Halliburtons of education, the testing and publishing companies only care about making money.
17. Get rid of the fear and punishment model ala NCLB and high stakes testing. They take away precious energy.
18. Quit comparing schools. Schools by their very nature are different, because the people in schools are diverse.
19. Look at diversity as an asset, instead of a liability.
20. Give teachers a role in academic governance.
21. Have administrators that teach as part of their jobs. Many administrators have forgotten what it is like to be in the classroom.
22. Allow teachers to select the school administration from the ranks of the teachers, and have the administrator rotate back into the classroom.
23. Learn from other countries.
24. Allow for the diverse learning styles and interests of all students.
25. Focus on what students learn not what they cannot do.
26. Get rid of the concept of mastery for it is an oxymoron. We never ever really master anything.
27. Provide teachers with the materials and resources they need. Many teachers spend their own money on the children they teach. What profession so willingly does this?
28. Quit blaming teachers for the ills of society.
29. Quit insisting that we adopt whatever solutions has been most recently concocted as a panacea. There is no silver bullet or magic formula.
30. Understand that teaching is a "real time" endeavor and teachers orchestrate many things at the same time.
31. Understand that teaching is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.
32. Think about your great teachers, and talk about them, for they are true the true heroes and heroines, not the celebrities.
33. Provide planning time so we can thoughtfully do our jobs.
34. Understand the difference between training and education, justice and the law, religion and morality, knowledge and isolated facts.
35. Understand that the curricular areas are connected and that our job is to help students make connections, not just teach isolated facts.
36. Provide us with resources for parent education for parents are our allies.
37. Understand that the best people to determine how well a student is doing are the student himself/herself, the teachers, and the parents/guardians in consort with one another.
38. Understand that no high stakes test score can even begin to tell one all there is about learning. Standardized testing results are only broad strokes and are culturally biased and limiting, and this practice does not add value, but detracts.
39. Quit ranking, sorting, categorizing, and labeling students, schools, and teachers for it is demoralizing. People blossom at different times and at rates.
40. Stop micro-managing teachers and schools.
41. And for crying out loud, quit saying that we need better-qualified teachers. We are qualified or we'd be eaten alive by our students.
42. Walk in our shoes for just a week without anyone telling you what to do. You would crawl out the classroom.
43. And quit managing by fear and punishment and thinking that the only thing that motivates us is money.
44. Understand that we are educating for human greatness - the long haul, not just for students to pass some high stakes test.
46. Remember the importance of local control and small school districts for they are better able to respond to student needs and this ever changing society.
45. Think before you open your mouth and say another dumb thing about teachers. Know what you don't know, and you don't know teaching. Don't think that you have the answer for us, and quit using education as a political football. Quit being so arrogant and get out of our way. Support us, and do no harm to us. Thank teachers.

How about the government sponsoring a National Teacher Appreciation Week. Now that would be something of importance.

Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Ph.D. is a professional educator with 40 years of experience. She has taught grades K-12 (inclusive) in imaginable and unimaginable situations in Hawai'i, Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, and California. She has even taught in a one-room schoolhouse in a community of 200. In addition, Siu-Runyan has taught all levels in higher education - undergraduates, post-bac, master's and doctoral degree students. She has worked also at the administration center and provided in-depth inservice education to many teachers from various school districts and communities. She is published in refereed international, national, and state publications, and has presented internationally, nationally, state-wide, and locally. A woman of color, she understands the power and value of diversity. She thanks her teachers!

Yvonne Siu-Runyan's comments were well spoken and on-target. I too have taught all grade levels, private and public school, undergraduate and graduate students, had a private clinic, presented locally to internationally. Now I am retired, teaching part time to help pay my bills. Along comes social security for teachers in Texas. After I pay Medicare, I receive(d) $110. a month. They deduct teacher retirement from what I should have earned based on the years I paid into social security. My friends get an extra allowance on their social security based on their husband's social security. That allowance for me is also reduced by deducting my teacher retirement which leaves nothing. Oh and since I had to work part time, they are taking away my social security checks for the next 14 months to repay them for earning too much last year. (It will take that long because they still have to pay Medicare out of my social security.) This year I was 65 in March which is the age you can earn as much as you want without losing your social secuity. However, they count the entire year's income not just the 3 months of the year I was still 64. So, since I will be receiving enough social security to pay Medicare (nothing to me), I will have to pay that back after I have finished paying off last year's debt when I got my full $330 a month.

I teach graduate students who are leaving other professions to go into teaching. I want to stand on my desk and tell them they are crazy. They will not be appreciated, paid well (one student was earning over $200,000 a year as a lawyer), and when they retire, they will be penalized and not recieve the social security they have already paid into the system. Oh, and by the way, teachers do not get the retirement that the legislators, who know more about education than the educators, receive.

I agree that we should remove the bureaucracies that hinder both funding and teaching. Get rid of all of them. NCLB, Dept of Education, State Dept of Education and the teachers unions. With those barriers eliminated, "the sky is the limit" on what local school boards, teachers and parents can do with their children!

Tim is a parent of 2 school aged children 11 & 12. No training in education, no Ph.D.

I think some people have taken Biden's comments a bit too literally. I cannot imagine that he means there are no good teachers. You other teachers who have responded did so because you care. I see/know plently of teachers who have probably never heard of edweek and do not care enough to follow the story. I don't think you all should be offended by his comment. Teachers also follow the bell curve with some extraordinary and some who are lack-luster.

It’s all basic huh? Then it shouldn’t be any problem to fix now should it? Some people just have a way with words, myself included, and the public education establishment certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on stupidity where education is concerned. The fact is it is broken.

You can’t start students out as the smartest and brightest in the world, ranked in the top 5 nations in the world at age five, and watch them decline to being ranked 25-30 in world class education at grade twelve and call it a success. Quit patting yourself on the back. You haven’t earned it yet.

You can’t take a government sanctioned monopoly, and expect it to render results consistent with that of a capitalistic competitive environment. In fact, you can’t take a government sanctioned program of any kind anywhere there is a competitive alternative available as the people will most always migrate over to the side that renders the best value and results.

You can’t use a band-aid level solution to fix a hemorrhage level problem. As long as you keep throwing money at it, the problem isn’t going to go away. You’re providing a solution to a symptom when you should be identifying the problem causing the symptom. Then and only then can you come up with a solution to fix it.

It is your fault. It is not the child’s fault. It is not the teacher’s fault. It is not the principal’s fault. Fault rests entirely upon you. And until you take the initiative to say “enough” and do something about it, you can always stand by and continue to blame everybody else for your personal failure to take responsibility for your own destiny.

If you want to fix education, this is how you do it.

1. UNIONS have no place in education. They are nothing more than a self-serving entitlement driven organization that cares only about that which they can extort from the government and the employee.

2. Teachers need better training. Alright, if you believe that, then train them and remove the excuse. In other words, either put up or shut up. And while we are on this subject, pay them. It is absolutely amazing to me the amount of money people are squander on foolishness, yet, will search the ends of the earth for a bargain basement price for their most prized and precious possession – their children.

3. Accountability and responsibility need to be more than just a clever cliché.’ If Johnny is disrupting the educational process, escort him to the door. By allowing him to stay, you’re allowing one bad apple to spoil the entire lot. Give the administration the power and authority to follow through on it. The school, contrary to popular belief, is not a day care center. Take your disciplinary problem home and deal with it.

4. Limit standardized testing to only one per quarter for ½ day or four per school year. The level at which we are preparing and testing our children has reached absolute absurdity which is to say it has as much change at enrichment as absolute zero.

5. Change to a modified district plan. In other words, you have first choice to attend a school system in your own school district, and the school must accept you as a student in your own school district barring any disciplinary reasons. If you are dissatisfied with your own designated school district, you are allowed to take all of the money earmarked for your education to another school of your choice within the same school system. If you go outside of your school system, a substantial prorated amount is then allocated to the student to go outside of the school system with the exception of school systems which are failing to meet minimum educational guidelines as set forth for all schools. If the child goes to a private school, the money is allocated to the student to go to that private school. If you want to do it right, go look and see what Finland is doing and replicate it.

6. Think about the purpose and intent of the public school system and what it has evolved to today, compared to that of 150 years ago, and compare that to the technology we have available today that would render most public school systems obsolete. In the public school system, you’re always going to be teaching at a pace subject to the lowest common denominator in the class. That is, the absolutely slowest student in the class will ultimately dictate the pace at which the material is being taught. If you’re going to continue to teach in this type of environment, segregation is paramount to overall success of all students.

7. Education starts at the top. You have to get complete and total buy in from the parents to make it an overall success. But remember, they went to school too, so you can’t just sell them on the same bill of goods they bought into as they were growing up going to the public school system. And they clearly understand that the reason they are in the predicament they are in now was because of what they lacked in education then.

8. Leadership starts at the top. Fiscal irresponsibility and lavish use of taxpayer dollars indicate that the School Administration isn’t being very good stewards of our money. When the School Administration building is affectionately referred to as the ‘Taj Mahal’ (no disrespect intended), and is large enough to manufacture a fleet of 747s with long corridors even the Pentagon staff would envy, there’s something inherently wrong with that picture. Either get with the program, or get out so somebody that is willing to do the right thing can.

9. Pay attention at the polls. Politicians have a sneaky way of taking money earmarked for education right out from under your nose by virtue of TADs (Tax Allocation Districts). TAD is a license for politicians to steal money set aside for your child’s education for revitalization development efforts in economically depressed areas of the community. Why on earth would you siphon money away from your child’s future in order to subsidize a developer’s self serving project? Here’s s novel idea; subsidize your own development.

10. If a million people believe in a dumb idea, it’s still a dumb idea. The difference between knowledge and wisdom is that wisdom is that ability to utilize and capitalize on knowledge. These concepts go well beyond conventional education in schools, and will go a long way toward breaking the cycle of people who fall victim to being a product of their environment.

You have to ask yourself “What do I want for my Children?” For me, I want my children to know God. I don’t want my children to have a fear of God, but to love God and to understand the difference between divine authority and human authority. I want my children prepared for the world around them, not protected from it. I want them to know how to deal with any real life situation life may throw at them. I want my children to be afforded the greatest opportunity to become successful and self sufficient – never having to depend on anyone else for their own destiny. I want my children to have the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate through life as seamlessly as possible. I want my children to stand with honor, courage, and dignity and stand up for what is right no matter what it cost them.

Biden was right about one thing – I would scrap the whole thing and start from scratch, but likely not for the same reasons he would.

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