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Presidential Debate a Blast From the Past on Education

A few times during last nights' presidential debate, I had to check my watch to make sure that it wasn't 2000. Because every time education came up, I felt like I was listening to Al Gore and George W. Bush debating education circa 2000:

Here's President Obama at last night's debate:

So now I want to hire another 100,000 new math and science teachers, and create 2 million more slots in our community colleges so that people can get trained for the jobs that are out there right now. And I want to make sure that we keep tuition low for our young people.

Here's Al Gore in 2000:

We've got to recruit 100,000 new teachers, and I have budgeted for that. We've got to reduce the class size so that the student who walks in has more one-on-one time with the teacher...

Here's President Obama last night:

It means that the teacher that I met in Las Vegas, a wonderful young lady, who describes to me -- she's got 42 kids in her class. The first two weeks she's got them, some of them sitting on the floor until finally they get reassigned. They're using text books that are 10 years old.

Here's Al Gore in 2000:

...two days ago we ate lunch at a restaurant and the guy who served us lunch sent -- got me a letter today. His name is Randy Ellis (ph), he has a 15-year-old daughter named Kailey (ph), who's in Sarasota High School. Her science class was supposed to be for 24 students. She is the 36th student in that classroom, sent me a picture of her in the classroom. They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class.

Here's Mitt Romney last night:

My own view, by the way, is I've added to that. I happen to believe, I want the kids that are getting federal dollars from IDEA or Title I -- these are disabled kids or -- or -- or poor kids or -- or lower-income kids, rather, I want them to be able to go to the school of their choice. So all federal funds, instead of going to the -- to the state or to the school district, I'd have go, if you will, follow the child and let the parent and the child decide where to send their -- their -- their student.

Here's George W. Bush in 2000:

instead of continuing to subsidize failure, the money will go to the parent so the parent can choose a different public school. Federal money attributed to the child will go to the parent for a public school or a charter school or a tutorial or a Catholic school.

Obama's mentioned 100,000 teachers twice last night, which, combined with his campaign ads blasting Romney on class sizes, sounds like rehashing the greatest education hits of the Clinton administration. Romney's proposal to "backpack" federal Title I funds is a repeat of a Bush 2000 campaign idea as well--although it expands the concept beyond low-performing schools to include all Title I and IDEA funds.

But in other respects, last night's debate was a striking contrast from the debate in 2000. In 2000, both Gore and Bush agreed on the need for increased accountability in public education and were united in their support for charter schools as a strategy to expand choice in public education. Last night featured nary a mention of charter schools or educational accountability.

In many respects, the education reform debate in this country had made tremendous progress over the past decade. But listening to last night's debate, you would have thought it moved backwards.

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