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GOP Education Platform Echoes McCain's Agenda

Now that the GOP convention is underway, the Republican party has given its official stamp of approval to an education platform that mirrors many of the K-12 proposals of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the nearly nominee.

The platform calls for merit pay for teachers, and for permitting principals to recruit the best educators "without regard to collective bargaining agreements." And it supports school choice options, including expanding charter schools and giving families access to private school vouchers that can be used at both secular and religious schools. It commends efforts by local school districts to recruit professionals from higher education, business, and the military to serve as adjunct instructors, if they are needed.

McCain has advocated a top-to-bottom review of all federal programs and the platform repeats this call, saying that policymakers must examine all programs at the U.S. Department of Education to make sure they are effective. It says that K-12 spending at the Department of Education has "shot up almost 41 percent to $25 billion" in less than a decade even though "the constitution assigns the federal government no role in education." And, in a nod to small government conservatives, it says that the federal government must "respect the role of states" and "better meet state needs."

McCain didn't mention the No Child Left Behind Act in his speech when he laid out his education proposals to the annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Cincinnati in July. And the GOP platform is just as vague about the federal school improvement law—the education portion also doesn't mention the measure by name. Instead, it calls for "accountability for student achievement; periodic testing on the fundamentals of learning especially math and reading, history and geography; transparency, so parents and the federal government know which school best serve their students."

That language isn't inconsistent with NCLB, but it definitely opens the door to changes in the law, which calls for testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

The platform also takes traditionally conservative views on issues that McCain hasn't mentioned much on the campaign trail. It supports "English First" instruction, apparently as opposed to bilingual education. And it says that the party will "energetically assert the right of students to engage in voluntary prayer in schools." The document also calls for replacing "family planning" programs for teenagers with increased funding for abstinence education.

--Alyson Klein

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