Spurred by a hotly contested race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the educational policy positions of the leading candidates have been a source of debate and speculation, both in the blogosphere and in the media.
As we have noted in the past [here and here], we are of the view that there are real educational policy differences between Obama and Clinton, and that is — in significant measure — why our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Clinton. On educational issues, either Democratic candidate would be far preferable to McCain, but Clinton maintains a distinct advantage over Obama.
In our view, Clinton has been more forceful in her critique of No Child Left Behind, telling a recent UFT Delegate Assembly that we need to scrap it, while Obama has been decidedly more equivocal: “I do not believe that being against No Child Left Behind is an education policy,” he has said.
Importantly, on one key issue for teachers — individual merit pay — Clinton has been opposed, while Obama has been supportive. “Performance-based merit pay for teachers is a bad idea,” Clinton told Iowa teachers, which could be “demeaning and discouraging.” By contrast, Obama has introduced a bill [S. 2441, introduced 3/16/2006 by Obama] into Congress which expressly calls for the following steps:
(C) Rate the effectiveness of individual teachers, administrators, and schools within the local educational agency, using when feasible, as 1 measure, a value-added system, a statistical method to measure the influence of a teacher or school on the rate of academic progress of students. The local educational agency shall evaluate 1 year’s worth of academic growth for each student using as the reference standard the national norm gain for each grade level, or the statewide or district-wide value-added gain.
(D) Assess the effectiveness of individual teachers, administrators, and schools, using when feasible, as 1 measure, the value-added system described in subparagraph (C), including a measure of progress toward the goal of every student becoming proficient in reading, writing, and mathematics, and a measure of the progress of students through coursework needed to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for eventual entrance into a postsecondary degree or certification program.
(E) Award incentives for effective teaching or school leadership that may be linked to the results of the assessments under subparagraph (D), including a measure of progress toward the goal of every student becoming proficient in reading, writing, and mathematics, and a measure of the progress of students through coursework needed to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for eventual entrance into a postsecondary degree or certification program.”
Surely if any words are considered, and reflective of a carefully thought out position, they should be the words that go into legislation.
Some in the educational blogosphere and media have made the case that Obama is open to vouchers. The evidence most commonly cited, an interview in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, does not convincingly support the claim. [The Sentinel has made it impossible to link directly to the interview in this question, but if you hit on this link, and put Obama and vouchers into the search engine, you will be taken to the interview.] A number of the Obama supporters floating this idea have ulterior motives for doing so, since it lends credibility to positions of their own. It would be in the best interests of the candidate Obama to make clear that these supporters do not reflect his thinking.