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April 5, 2004
Kerry Flip-Flops on Education Reform

Who wrote these words about education reform?

"It bothers me," the reformer wrote, "that some Democrats have resisted the idea of making educational outcomes the skills and knowledge our kids obtain from the educational system as important as educational inputs the adequate funding, the good facilities and the higher teacher pay we all want."

The answer? John Kerry, in his campaign book he published just last year. However, Kerry the Candidate has reversed course and now campaigns against No Child Left Behind because of its "punitive" provisions for schools that fail to raise educational outcomes. However, the Los Angeles Times' Ronald Brownstein -- who usually acts as a reliable spin doctor for the Democrats -- unspins Kerry on this issue:

After voting for President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Kerry, during his race to the nomination, joined the mob of Democrats condemning the education reform law. ... [H]e reversed himself to insist that schools be judged not only on outputs their success in improving student performance but inputs as well, such as whether teachers and students show up regularly.

Kerry and other skeptics point to some legitimate problems in No Child Left Behind. But many education reformers worry that the changes he's demanding will do more to hide problems in the schools than to fix them. Put another way: His proposed revisions mostly favor the adults working in the school system over students and their parents.

Various denunciations of the NCLB Act have filled the campaign trail; it's vilified almost as often as the Patriot Act -- both of which Kerry voted to support while in the Senate. As Brownstein notes, Kerry's attitude on education reform changed when Howard Dean vaulted to the front of the pack during the run-up to the primaries and threatened to take all the union endorsements with him. Suddenly, Kerry had a lot less to say about "outputs" and ever since has criticized the act for the potential consequences for failing schools.

Calling the measure "punitive", though, certainly mischaracterizes the act, as Brownstein points out:

Kerry's clear intent is to loosen the standard so that fewer schools are identified as needing improvement, even if student test scores fail to rise. It's easy to see why teachers and administrators worried about their public image like that idea. It's more difficult to see how it helps parents or children.

The demand for loosening the accountability standard is based largely on the myth, now embraced by Kerry, that the law punishes schools designated as needing improvement.

In fact, schools face no changes until they have failed to raise student performance for at least two consecutive years. Even then, they are only required to develop an improvement plan and, more important, to allow parents to transfer their children to other public schools. If the school fails to improve student performance for three consecutive years, it must provide low-income parents stipends to obtain extra tutoring for their kids, often from respected providers like Sylvan Learning Center.

How exactly can this be construed as "punitive"? It focuses sanctions specifically on providing more options for parents and students for the first three years a school continues to fail to generate age-appropriate test results. Over a hundred thousand students in the nation's largest school districts get extra tutoring, thanks to those requirements. Now Kerry proposes to water down the evaluation standards by including silly measurements like teacher attendance, which would have eliminated the tutoring opportunity for most of those students. Aren't the teachers getting paid to show up for work? And who exactly is Kerry trying to help here?

Kerry has built a record of flip-flops that the Bush campaign has exploited very skillfully in the first month of the head-to-head campaign. When formerly reliable Democratic voices like Brownstein pull a fisking like this pointing out these inconsistencies, you know that Kerry's gone off the rails.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 5, 2004 6:07 AM

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