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February 28, 2008

Obama v. Clinton on Education Policy

For those who are still -- still -- struggling to identify policy differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, check out Education Week's run down of their education platforms. There are some real distinctions; Obama has supported teacher merit pay pegged to the test scores of individual instructors' students, while Clinton, who has been endorsed by the major national teachers' unions, believes merit pay should be awarded only when entire schools improve their performance.

In interviews with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel prior to the Wisconsin primary, Clinton rejected private school choice outright, while Obama expressed some openness to private school vouchers -- if studies ever show they improve student achievement. Still, he made it clear that he's aware of the many problems with real-world voucher programs. "My view has been that you are not going to generate the supply of high-quality schools to meet the demand,” Obama said. “Instead, what you’re going to get is a few schools that cream the kids that are easiest to teach." That describes almost perfectly the problems with the Utah voucher proposal that voters in that state rejected last November.

Indeed, it's long been my view that the more promising school choice is public school choice.

What about NCLB? Both Obama and Clinton are critical of the bill and want to expand the way it assesses students' progress to include measures such as Advanced Placement exams, graduation rates, and student portfolios. There have been some tonal distinctions in the way the candidates talk about the law, with Obama speaking about it being an unfunded mandate, while Clinton focuses more on the problems of NCLB's testing requirements, in which each state is allowed to craft its own standards, some of which are pitifully low.

Both Obama and Clinton want to move toward universal pre-school, though Clinton has signaled more of a commitment to attacking the issue at the federal level. On teacher education, Obama is more aggressive; he would like to provide full college scholarships for students who agree to teach for four years, and has said there should be a national teacher certification exam.

On education, a Democratic president will have a host of Congressional and union pressures on them. So make of these subtle distinctions what you will.

cross-posted at TAPPED 


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