n Rush to White House, 'No Child' Is Left Behind
Ohanian Comment: A
sure-fire guarantee of being ignored is to
write the Obama campaign about the need to
scrap No Child Left Behind. In fairness, I
don't know what would happen if one wrote
McCain, since I can't see the point of writing
him about anything. But a group of us have
investigated every avenue we can think of to
Silence. Except when he's bloviating on the
need for tougher tests for kids and merit page
John Schnur, Obama Education Advisor, is
founder of New Leaders for New Schools. On NPR
his effort to recruit and train people like
military colonels and business executives to be
principals. His thinking is, if you can lead an
Army unit in Iraq, you can turn around a
failing school in New York City.
Of course, Schnur's outfit gets big bucks from
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the
Enter his name into a search from the Home Page
of this site and you'll find a big plenty to be
By Maria Glod
For the next president, one of the first
domestic challenges will be to reshape the No
Child Left Behind law, hailed six years ago as
a bipartisan solution to America's education
But in their race for the White House, Sens.
John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
are distancing themselves from what has become
a tainted brand.
Education experts say the candidates have
offered, at best, a fuzzy vision for the future
of the No Child Left Behind law. Obama pledges
to "fix the failures" of the law, while McCain
seeks to avoid mention of it.
"This is the 10,000-pound gorilla, and yet
nobody wants to talk about it. At both
conventions, you hardly heard anyone say the
words 'No Child Left Behind,' " said Michael J.
Petrilli, vice president for national programs
and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation,
a nonprofit organization that seeks to raise
education standards. "I think that says a lot
about how unpopular the law is, or at least the
brand. Politicians, not wanting to take
unnecessary risks, are keeping quiet."
A national poll released last month by Phi
Delta Kappa/Gallup found that 67 percent of
Americans think the law should be significantly
changed or scrapped. A quarter of those polled
said it's helping schools; 22 percent said it's
Education has been largely a back-burner issue
in a campaign dominated by rising oil prices, a
slumping economy and the Iraq war, but McCain
and Obama have given clues on key school
issues. Obama wants $18 billion in new federal
spending, a major increase; McCain favors
maintaining current funding. McCain has made
school choice central to his education agenda,
vowing to use public funding to help students
attend private schools. Obama opposes vouchers.
McCain is squarely for teacher merit pay based
on test scores; Obama supports pay for
performance but only in cooperation with
unions. Obama supports a significant expansion
of early childhood programs. McCain supports
the creation of more online schools and
In recent days, as millions of parents sent
their children back to school, the campaigns
kicked up the rhetoric on education, each
accusing the other of lacking a reform record.
A McCain television advertisement says Obama's
"one accomplishment" on education has been to
support "comprehensive sex education" for
kindergartners. Recently in Norfolk, Obama said
McCain "has not done one thing to improve the
quality of public education in our country, not
one real law or proposal or initiative.
Nothing. It has not been a priority for him."
The next iteration of the No Child Left Behind
law, now overdue in Congress, could have major
effects for millions of students and teachers.
The law marked an unprecedented federal foray
into public schools, requiring a dramatic
expansion of testing. It aims to boost the
achievement of students from poor families who
have long trailed those who come from the
middle and upper classes.
Both candidates say they support the law's
lofty goal of leading every student to
proficiency in reading and math. McCain voted
for the legislation in 2001, as did many
prominent Democrats who now support Obama. Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose endorsement
boosted Obama in the Democratic primary, was
among the law's architects. Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton (D-N.Y.) also voted for it.
Obama has criticized the law's emphasis on
standardized tests, calling No Child Left
Behind "one of the emptiest slogans in the
history of politics" and saying it needs more
funding. One of his advisers, Jon Schnur, who
was an education adviser in the Clinton White
House, said the senator "doesn't want the
country to retreat from the notion of high
standards, accountability and a focus on
assessments done right."
McCain, on his campaign Web site, says he will
"build on the lessons of No Child Left Behind."
But in major speeches, he hasn't mentioned the
law. His advisers, including former Arizona
school superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, say
McCain wants to give children in schools with
poor test performance quicker access to private
tutoring, which is mandated under the law.
McCain also supports a program that provides
scholarships to low-income D.C. students for
At the GOP convention, McCain said that when
public schools fail to perform, "parents
deserve a choice in the education of their
children. And I intend to give it to them. Some
may choose a better public school. Some may
choose a private one. Many will choose a
Obama, who has offered a more detailed
education platform, wants to significantly
expand early childhood programs. His plan would
provide public schools more money to add hours
or days to the school year, or expand after-
school programs. He also has pledged to
"recruit an army of new teachers" with higher
salaries and more support.
At Granby High in Norfolk, Obama said he
supports higher pay for teachers and more
spending on charter schools. "Let's finally
help our teachers and principals develop a
curriculum and assessments that teach our kids
to become more than just good test-takers."
But neither candidate has offered detailed
plans for No Child Left Behind. Michael A.
Rebell, a professor at Teachers College at
Columbia University, said the candidates are
tiptoeing around the law because the debate has
changed. In 2000, it was about values and
promising to ensure that all kids learn. Now
it's about the nitty-gritty -- whether to delay
the law's 2014 target for universal
proficiency; whether to use other yardsticks
besides state tests to rate schools; and
whether to ease sanctions on lagging schools.
"Both candidates have been walking very
gingerly around the NCLB landmines and don't
want to take a strong stand," Rebell said. "It
alienates a lot of constituencies no matter
what they do."
On the Democratic side, teachers unions are
critical of the law. In a July speech, Randi
Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member
American Federation of Teachers, called it a
well-intentioned effort that has "become a
blunt instrument for attacking, not assisting,
our public schools." Many teachers, she said,
consider it a "four-letter word."
But civil rights groups, including the NAACP
and the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Educational Fund, have been vocal supporters of
a law they see as a way to ensure minority
children aren't ignored.
Many Republicans say Washington is meddling too
much in the operation of schools, traditionally
the purview of state and local governments.
Even the staunchest supporters want changes.
Making everyone happy is impossible.
" 'No Child Left Behind' -- those four words
really have become this hot-button issue," said
Marc S. Lampkin, executive director of Strong
American Schools Ed in '08, an effort funded
through philanthropists Bill Gates and Eli
Broad to raise education issues' profile in the
election. "If you're a right-winger
conservative, you don't like the federal
intrusion. If you're a left-wing, pro-union
person, you don't like the fact that the
accountability system with its penalties
focuses on teachers."
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES