Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Bloomberg Bow-Out

The only contender with experience trying to reform a huge school district confirmed today that he won't make a presidential bid. In a New York Times op-ed, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it official, but also took a few shots at the surviving candidates for ignoring realities he assumes they know to be true, including this about schools:

"They must know that we can’t fix our schools without holding teachers, principals and parents accountable for results."

Richard Whitmire

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mike Huckabee

Where o' where is Mike Huckabee? He might have a better future as a comedian, given his performance on "Saturday Night Live," than as Secretary of Education. He has said numerous times since Super Tuesday that he is in the race until "someone" gets to the magic number of delegates needed for the Republican nomination. John McCain is only about 250 delegates short of that count. So, looking ahead, Michael J. Petrilli, writing for National Review, suggests The Huck might be a good choice for Secretary of Education, in the same vein that William Bennett serve President Reagan. Petrilli writes that Bennett had no aspirations to be an education president, in fact ... "education was barely on his to do list.

Same case might be made for Mike Huckabee ... engaging, personable, nearly charismatic but education doesn't rank among the Top 10 campaign issues on his Web site. Arkansas made huge gains in education reform under his gubernatorial watch but most Arkansans would agree that gains made to improve education were more a result of the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling requiring equitable and adequate funding for all as the driving force rather than Huckabee's leadership in education. It's amazing how quickly the executive and legislative branches responded when the state's highest court ruled the education system unconstitutional and threatened (albeit veiled) to use its power to allocate as much revenue as necessary to education at the expense of all other state functions.

By way of introduction ... My name is Rose Ann Pearce and I am the K-12 education reporter for The Morning News, Springdale, AR. My beat consists of the Springdale (the state's third largest school district), Fayetteville and six rural districts in Washington County, AR, as well as regional issues. (The Morning News has a 40K circulation, is owned by Stephens Media, and is in a head-to-head competition with the Northwest edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.) When Richard Whitmire asked me to take over monitoring Huckabee for this blog, I expected The Huck to talk more about education than he has. If you're waiting for pearls of education wisdom in his speeches and campaign appearances ... don't hold your breath.

Is Obama for or against vouchers?

(Obama and Clinton after last week's debate.)

It seems Barack Obama was opposed to vouchers before he was open to them before he opposed them again.

You may recall that Obama told the big teachers unions that he opposed vouchers on a questionnaire back in the fall but then told the Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel he would consider changing his position if vouchers in that city were proven to work to raise student achievement.

That prompted the Ohio Federation of Teachers, in advance of next week's high stakes primary, to demand an explanation of where Obama stands. Obama replied that he is still solidly opposed to vouchers, Education Week reports. (We should probably note that OFT's national union, the American Federation of Teachers, has endorsed Hillary Clinton while the other big national teachers union, the National Education Association, has yet to endorse.)

Meanwhile, over at This Week in Education, Alexander Russo is skeptical of Obama because of his inspiring rhetoric about the power of education and the nation's ability to improve in that area. Russo says generally the people who speak most eloquently about education are doing the least to actually make it better.

Russo also takes note of Obama's knock on NCLB for not addressing foreign language instruction during the last debate with Clinton.

Note: This post also appears on my education blog Get on the Bus.

(Image credit: AP)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

McCain on Education: Where Art Thou?

In the latest Education Week Campaign '08 story, my colleague, David Hoff, unearthed everything he possibly could, within deadline constraints, on Sen. John McCain's views on education.

The conclusion: There's not much to find. Education just isn't his issue. At least, not right now.

This quote from Hoff's story pretty much says it all:
“I don’t think he has a strong track record of putting education at the top of his priorities,” said Frank Davidson, the superintendent of the 8,000-student Casa Grande Elementary School District in Casa Grande, Ariz.

It doesn't help that McCain's campaign office won't respond to requests for information either (as Hoff's story explains).

While Hoff's story notes that a federal hands-off approach may be appealing to some education advocates, it would still be nice if McCain would offer some more details on, at a minimum, what he would do with No Child Left Behind. Like it or not, if elected, McCain would have to deal with the law.

Is Obama for or against vouchers?

It seems that Barack Obama, who told the big national teachers unions last year that he opposed public financing of vouchers for students to attend private schools, has changed his tune.

Campaigning in Wisconsin, where Milwaukee's popular voucher program sends more than 15 percent of the city's school children to private schools, Obama told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he is open to the idea of vouchers if studies end up proving they are effective in raising student achievement.

Obama said he remained a "skeptic" about vouchers, but would reconsider if the research showed otherwise. There has not been a conclusive longitudinal study of the effectiveness of Milwaukee's voucher program, although a new study is underway.

Rival Hillary Clinton has been highly critical of vouchers, even warning that widespread use of them could result in public financing for kids to attend schools that teach "jihad."

This Week in Education's Alexander Russo points out, however, that this isn't the first time Obama has spoken this way about vouchers and that he likes to use education as an example of his independence from Democratic orthodoxy.

I suppose it doesn't hurt to bring this up on the eve of Wisconsin's hotly contested primary.

This post also appears on my education blog Get on the Bus.

(Image: Obama with students at Northcentral Wisconsin Technical College. Credit: Wausau Daily Herald)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Resource on Candidates' positions has put together a pretty good synopsis on the candidates' positions on various issues from No Child Left Behond to college funding and affordability to universal pre-K. They do the work so we don't have to.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Obama backs charter schools

Presidential candidate Barack Obama hasn't put too much detail to his education positions so far. But in an interview with the politics Web site Politico Obama used his support of federal aid to charter schools as an example of his willingness to take positions outside of the mainstream for his party.

Obama also talked up his support of teacher pay raises based on performance and acknowledged that the big teachers' unions are not thrilled with these positions. The Politico story suggests these positions might be a bridge to reach out to Republicans and right-leaning independents for support.

This post also appears on my education blog, Get ont the Bus.

Clinton on education in one neat package

Eduwonk guest blogger Michael Robbins points out this Web posting on's beta site, which features the major candidates on education issues. Here is the information on Hillary Clinton.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Romney Drops Out

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican who had assembled a who's who list of education advisers and one of the more detailed education agendas of the GOP presidential candidates, is calling it quits.

For better or for worse, Romney was also one of the biggest supporters of No Child Left Behind on the campaign trail.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Let's try asking education questions

Here’s one way to get the presidential candidates, who had largely switched topics from education to issues like the economy and health care, to talk about schools again — ask them education questions!

That’s what three out of a total of nine San Francisco Chronicle readers did when the paper arranged for them to pose questions to Barack Obama.

Thank you Geoff Geiger, Cory Haynes and Anthony Cody!

Geiger started off with a question about what Obama would do to solve difficult problems that American children face. Obama talked a lot about health care for all kids in his answer, but also touted his plan for supportiing early childhood education from birth to age five with federal dollars.

Haynes said he felt our education system widened the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in America and asked how Obama would address those disparities. In response, Obama said No Child Left Behind had the right goals, but has been poorly executed. He talked up his plan for raising teacher quality and teacher pay to attract more good people to the profession, and said he would work with governors to create new assessment models that are more useful to educators.

In a perfect follow up, Cody asked what other sorts of tests Obama envisioned that might replace the flawed standardized tests states currently rely on for accountability. Obama described a future in which kids would not be judged just on single-day tests, but instead on a variety of factors, such as “writing samples or reading samples, mathematics assessments, assessments of science or history knowledge, or even musical performances.” Other factors used to judge kids might include attendance and even classroom behavior.

This put me in mind of the portfolio assessments that looked at a collection of student work that Kentucky and a few other states tried — with limited success — in the 1990s.

It’s nice to see Obama talking about education again and starting to explain in more detail what some of his proposals might look like in practice.

This post also appears on my education blog Get on the Bus.

(Image credit: AP)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Voters want change

A survey of likely voters shows that they are concerned about education -- so why isn't it a topic of the presidential campaigns?

A press release issued by Lake Research Partners shows that the majority of voters surveyed believe that it is extremely important to have good public schools nationwide, but there is also concern that public education in the United States is behind what is offered to students in other parts of the world and that we devote less attention to developing the imagination, creative skills, and innovation than other nations.

And maybe candidates should consider these little tidbits from the poll, according to the press release:

• 56% of voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who came out
in support of more funding.
• The electorate is even more willing to punish a candidate who votes to cut funding
for building capacities of the imagination. 57% of voters say they would be less
likely to vote for such a candidate, and 36% percent of voters say they would be
much less likely. Independent voters prove especially reactive to a candidate’s
decision to cut funding for building the capacities of the imagination.

The poll was commissioned by a coalition of organizations that ranged from the National Education Association to the National Association of Manufacturers. The backers also include
the International Music Products Association, the Ford Foundation, the George Gund Foundation and the Arts Education Partnership, which represents more than 100
educational and arts related national organizations.

Friday, February 1, 2008

maybe next time

Thursday's debate offered a chance to compare and contrast Senators Clinton and Obama on several key issues. The economy? Check. Immigration? Check. Health care? Double check. The wars? Check.
Education? Maybe next debate.
While the cameras noted several celebrities in the audience and entertainment got a mention, the debate was not a fluff fest. But education was mentioned mostly in passing. For those who missed it, the transcript, available here, is worth a look as much that was said regarding the economy and immigration touches peripherally on education. Sounds like CNN is hoping for another one-on-one Democratic candidate debate at the end of the month, so we can hope it will include more focus on education. Keep an ear out for sound bites after Feb. 4's USED press conference on the President's proposed education budget. There may be fresh attacks regarding inadequate funding for NCLB and IDEA, and cuts in myriad programs.

~ Cathy Grimes