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McKeon Backs McCain's NCLB Plans


If Sen. John McCain wins the White House, he'll have an ally for his education agenda in Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

McKeon was very "on message" in an interview with Campaign K-12 yesterday. Much of what he said about the future of the No Child Left Behind Act and school policy mirrored what Lisa Graham Keegan, McCain top education adviser, told me Tuesday about McCain and the Republican agenda.

Like McCain, McKeon supports federal accountability and assessment, but also stressed state's rights and local control, at least rhetorically. When I asked him how he might square those priorities with the federally driven accountability system at the center of the NCLB law, he mentioned a bill he introduced that would give states more flexibility in spending federal education funds—something McCain hasn't mentioned yet. (But it wouldn't surprise me if it became part of his education agenda.)

Like McCain, McKeon wants students in struggling schools to have more immediate access to supplemental services and school choice. He said he tried to get those provisions into a draft NCLB reauthorization bill that he crafted with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

And like McCain (and most Republicans) McKeon spoke enthusiastically about the need for performance pay for teachers.

McKeon also said that McCain and his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, differ on how much of authority the federal government should have over education—something Keegan told me on Tuesday.

"John McCain understands the office of the presidency," McKeon said. "He would not try to become school board president. He would become president of the United States. He would not try to tell us what time we should have recess and what books we should read at what time. When I hear the Democrats talk, it's more the getting into the details and more micro-managing out of Washington."

If McCain is in the White House, McKeon said the reauthorization bill would look "much like it would have been if we hadn't lost the majority" after the 2006 election. If McKeon had kept his job as chairman of the House education committee, he would have included growth models and flexibility for states in measuring the progress of students in special education and English-language learners in any plan to reauthorize the law.

Rep. McKeon complained about the lack of bipartisan cooperation in crafting that draft bill, which was released last August and faced immediate criticism from every corner of edupolicyworld. McKeon said he had a few major points he was trying to get Rep. Miller to sign onto, including on tutoring services. Miller did not "move one iota" on those proposals, he said.

"We just got to the point where we couldn't make any more progress," he said.

McKeon said he isn't sure that the bipartisan coalition that came together to pass the NCLB law in 2001 will stay intact if the Democrats remain in charge of Congress (almost all political experts predict they will). Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairmen of the education panels, weren't able to get a bill passed this Congress because "the unions hamper what they can do," McKeon said.

I reminded McKeon that NCLB faces opposition from some folks in his own party, including Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, a member of the education panel, who has introduced a bill that would permit states to opt-out of NCLB's accountability requirements. McKeon said that he is still unwilling to support that approach.

Hoekstra "wants to take off all the regulations and just give [school districts] the money," McKeon said. But, he said, as long as the federal government is using taxpayers' money to finance public education, it has a right to ask for results.

McKeon acknowledged that President Bush isn't going out with the highest approval ratings, but he said he believed that history will vindicate him—and the NCLB law.

"If an objective person were to go back and really look at" the rise in test scores, they would have to admit the law is working, he said. "The problem is it takes so long to evaluate" its effectiveness, since a student spends 13 years in elementary and secondary school.

He said NCLB has become a punching bag especially for the Democrats because "it was the GOP that did it, and they don't want to give us credit for it," he said.

McKeon wasn't always such a big McCain guy. Back during the primary, he was a huge supporter of Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who, perhaps more than any other candidate in the Republican party, championed NCLB and accountability on the campaign trail.

--Alyson Klein


With regards to McKeon's comment regarding that history will vindicate Bush and the NCLB Law and that the law is working.

McKeon is WRONG.

I don't know what kind of statistical analysis or data McKeon is using. The data doesn't show this at all.

However, what the data show are:

1. The Halliburtons of education have and continue to get rich off the backs of our students and teachers.

2. Our fragile democracy has become weaker and weaker because of the policies of this current administration.

3. Management by intimidation (bullying and psychological abuse) is being used by school administration and government because of NCLB.

4. School superintendents get bonuses of about $50,000 per year and pulling down salaries (depending on where they live) of about $150,000 to $250,000 per year, while classroom budgets are being cut to accommodate for the ridiculous costs of high stakes testing. No administrator is worth five classroom teachers.

5. The curriculum has narrowed. Students have been kept in from recess to test prep, which is insane.

6. From the very beginning, Bush's Reading First Initiative has been filled with scandal and based on junk science.

7. Reputable scholars have and continue to question, speak out, and write editorials, articles, and books against the value of NCLB, high stakes testing, and Bush's scandalous Reading First Initiative.

8. People have been compromised into thinking that they might make a difference when asked to serve on committees, which develop high stakes tests and standards when in fact only their good names were used to validate horrible practices. The agenda was already set and continues to be set by back room handshakes to make money for the wealthiest.

9. Teachers aren't afraid of assessment or being accountable. Teachers gather information all the time to inform their teaching. In fact, teachers are accountable to their students and parents every day they step into their classrooms. However, teachers are fed up with business folks, politicians, and standardistos telling them how to teach.

10, The factory model is inappropriate to use in school settings. Schools are NOT factories. Every student is different.

Perhaps it is wise to heed the words of the following great minds, not the narrow dictums of NCLB.

Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain.
John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

Imagination is more important than knowledge...
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.
Anatole France (1844 - 1924),

NCLB has not promoted "real" learning, has not awakened the imagination or the curiosity of students. NCLB has harmed this nation. And most importantly, teachers cannot be held accountable for the ills of society.

Poverty is the real issue. So, until poorest schools in the impoverished areas are like the best-equipped schools in the richest neighborhoods, then....problems of inequality will continue to exist.

How can one of the richest nations have such a backward view about how to treat its citizens? Oh, now I remember, we have had eight years of bad administration and horrible policy fueled by greed using fear and punishment tactics. It's time to admit that this nation has been snookered.

Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita

Ph.D. Siu-Runyan makes some valid, very opinionated points. However, I respectfully find concerns with many of your statements.

Point 1 seems like an opinion directed toward Dick Cheney - not an idea for improving education.
Point 2 is another stab at confusing our education system with our democracy - which provides opportunity for each to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I do agree we need improvement - but political blame; is just that, more blame and not a idea to improve. Educators, as a group, fail to reach consensus on what is best at most levels.
Point 3 has no basis in my school, district, or state. Once again, this seems opinion-based.
Points 6,7,and 8 refer to scandal with no evidence.
Other points have some validity - the curriculum has narrowed.
Schools have become more bland - factory -like coomparisons seem quite a stretch. Schools deal with more than just educating and poverty is just one issue. It is easy to place blame on a administration or entity. Across the nation, communities are becoming more involoved and the 'culture' of these schools creates an atmosphere of safety, respect,and accountability. There are great things happening in education - just not enough, I agree.

Education has been a decline for decades, not just the last 8 years as Ph. D. Siu-Runyan would like the readers to believe. The writer fails to see the system and its history and points fingers and blame which solve nothing - just as in a classroom when students have disagreements with unique backgrounds and diverse personalities. Technological advances push the envelope of creativity and result in new and better products almost daily - our schools have not been able to keep up.

Are there differences across the nation that need immediate attention? Absolutely. Poverty-stricken areas suffer due to the lack of a local tax base - but that didn't just happen under the Bush administration!
An experience I found alarming, in many of my college classes, new teachers are being filled with liberal philosophy. An example of this is to best teach reading early in the life of a child. Researched based proven techniques are discouraged when instructors do not agree with the person's politics or philosophy. More and more, new teachers find their way into a system for which they are not prepared on any level.

As an educator, I see more and more teachers are required to teach many more things than just curriculum! Behavior self control, respect, organization, appropriate social skills, life skills, and confilct resolution take time and are an integral part of each of us - but, I feel this job rests solely in school with little or no support at home and in the community.
As an educator, I refuse to allow children not to think for themselves or be accountable. As a parent, I will not rely on a school to solely be responsible for my children's education. They will arrive at school educated and ready to learn more.
At a recent conference, education and business came together to help direct the vision of what our society needs for us to be successful in a ever-evolving, high-tech, global world. It would seem that this type of 'coming together' is a beginning step in the type of collaboration our country needs to develop students for the technology world. The speaker, Mr. Bill Daggett, left the audience informed and wanting more - his website is [email protected]
Thank you

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