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Fact Checking the Debate: Vouchers, Teachers, and Special Education

During last night's debate, Barack Obama and John McCain held up the poor performance of the District of Columbia public schools to illustrate why education reform is needed. But they differed on whether vouchers are the answer—and they also differed on whether D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee thinks vouchers are the answer.

McCain said Rhee supports vouchers. Obama said she supports charters.

So which is it?

Last night, she and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty issued this statement to the D.C. City Paper, which doesn't appear overly enthusiastic about vouchers:

Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee strongly believe that all families in the District of Columbia must have access to excellent public school options, and are committed to ensuring that students in every ward are afforded this opportunity. While Chancellor Rhee hasn’t taken a formal position on vouchers, she disagrees with the notion that vouchers are the remedy for repairing the city’s school system.

UPDATE: Rhee expands on her statement here, in an interview with Fast Company.

Both candidates took other liberties on the subject of education, too.

—Obama took too much credit for doubling the number of charter schools in Illinois, "despite some reservations from teachers' unions." The legislation he's referring to increased the cap on charter schools in Chicago, not Illinois. And my knowledge of government indicates that a lone state senator can't single-handedly do much of anything. What's more, the charter school cap was doubled only after the teachers' unions succeeded in getting many new restrictions on these nontraditional public schools.

—During the squabble over Bill Ayers, Obama pointed out that he served on an "education reform board" (the Chicago Annenberg Challenge) funded by "one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors." While Walter Annenberg and his wife were close friends of the Reagans, it was actually during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon that Mr. Annenberg served as the British Ambassador. His wife, Leonore, who has endorsed McCain, served in the Reagan White House where she was commissioned as an ambassador because of her role at the U.S. State Department.

—McCain declared that No Child Left Behind was "the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective." Hardly. NCLB is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which dates back to 1965.

—Over at the Teacher Beat blog, my colleague Vaishali Honawar points out McCain's double-speak on teacher certification and bad teachers.

—And, at On Special Education, Christina Samuels sheds some light whether McCain is really confusing Down syndrome, which his running mate Sarah Palin's son has, and autism.

Meanwhile, Flypaper declares that the real debate winner is...drumroll please...

ED in '08!

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