I just got back from the first two days of the Democratic National Convention in Denver where I had my antenna up: What are the Democrats saying about PK-12 education? What kind of leadership on education would Barack Obama provide if elected?
(I won't make it to the Republican National Convention this year, but I'll be watching and sharing my thoughts about the Republicans next week.)
Many speakers talked about the importance of education. Democratic governors identified education as a key driver of economic success in their states. Michelle Obama told the crowd that her husband is running "to make sure every child in this nation gets a world-class education all the way from preschool to college."
But I think its fair to say that we don't have much of an idea about how Barack Obama would go about doing that.
Some Obama education priorities seem to have emerged (these and more can be found on the education section of his Web site):
- Expand preschool and early childhood education programs
- Recruit and develop high-quality teachers
But it's not clear what he thinks about NCLB's core principles and strategies. Consider this from his Web site: "Obama will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them."
He implies that he supports the law's core principles, because he states that he wants to reform and fund it at a higher level. He wants to improve the assessments that states use — that makes a lot of sense. But I'm not sure what he means by "improving NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them."
It is certainly true that under the current regimen some schools are not making progress because they just don't know how and nobody is helping them. Somebody needs to help and support failing schools to improve. But who? The federal government? States? Districts? How will Obama make this happen?
And what if schools still fail? Does he want to remove all consequences for school failure? Would that still qualify as "accountability" at all?
Obama and the Democrats have given us some indicators of their priorities, but many questions remain.