Saturday, April 12, 2008

NCLB: Obama and Clinton

Obama and Clinton: Latest statements on NCLB

Posted by James Crawford on 9 April 2008 at 11:04 am
It’s encouraging to see that both Democratic candidates are increasingly critical of the No Child Left Behind Act, as illustrated by a comprehensive report in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Obviously, they are responding to voter sentiment they encounter every day on the campaign trail. Attacking NCLB has become a sure-fire applause line, as illustrated last week in Montana. But their statements remain rather general and they have yet to propose any coherent alternative, leaving themselves plenty of wiggle room.

For example, when Sen. Clinton — who has taken semantic games to new heights in this campaign — says she would “put an end to the unfunded mandate called No Child Left Behind,” she could end up voting later to make it a “funded mandate” with only marginal changes. Indeed, that’s what many Democrats have advocated all along.

Sen. Obama points out that Clinton was an enthusiastic backer of NCLB in 2001, which she called “landmark legislation [that] sends a clear message that all American children deserve a world class education.” Perhaps, as with her vote to authorize the Iraq war, this was another case of Hillary being cruelly deceived by George Bush. She hasn’t explained, but Bill Clinton helpfully recalled in a recent speech that “Hillary was facing this impossible vote. She said ‘Bill this is not going to work, [NCLB] is going to be a disaster.’” Prophetic (if true), but apparently political calculations won out.

Meanwhile Obama has been, if anything, even more vague than Clinton on what changes he would favor in NCLB. While both candidates have criticized the overemphasis on standardized testing, neither has explicitly called for repealing the testing mandate or the high stakes attached. Nor have they promised to eliminate the absurd requirement of “100% proficiency by 2014.”

So it would be illuminating if Sen. Kennedy introduces his long-promised bill to reauthorize NCLB and holds a vote in the HELP Committee this spring. As committee members, Obama and Clinton would then have to commit themselves to specifics. Or reveal their unwillingness to do so.
Jim Crawford. ELL Advocates
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