Friday, September 21, 2007

"Education and Schools Are a Focus for Edwards"

NY Times:
DES MOINES, Sept. 21 — The Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards laid out a proposal on Friday to overhaul the education system, saying that the current No Child Left Behind law was not working and that poor children were still being sent to schools that are “separate and unequal.”
Speaking at Brody Middle School here, Mr. Edwards outlined a plan that he said would evaluate students more effectively, reduce class sizes and reward teachers who work in high-poverty schools with up to $15,000 in incentive pay, initiatives similar to those championed by education officials in New York City and elsewhere.

He also called for universal preschool, the creation of a national university that would become a “West Point for teachers” and an initiative that uses what he described as “education SWAT teams” to sweep in and rebuild failing schools.

“First, every child should be prepared to succeed when they show up in the classroom,” Mr. Edwards said. “Second, every classroom should be led by an excellent teacher. And third, every teacher should work in an outstanding school. These three principles should guide our reform.”

He revived his campaign slogan of what he calls the “two Americas,” applying it to racial and economic disparities in education.

“More than a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have two school systems, separate and unequal,” Mr. Edwards said. “There are nearly 1,000 high schools where more than half of the students won’t graduate — they’re called ‘dropout factories.’ ”

Mr. Edwards later acknowledged that he had voted as a senator from North Carolina in 2001 for the No Child Left Behind Act, an overhaul of education policy championed by President Bush that increased standardized testing and held schools more accountable for performance. When asked if he regretted his vote, he answered that he could not have known how Mr. Bush would carry out the program.

“There was no way to know because he didn’t tell us the truth about whether he would fund it,” he said.

Mr. Edwards did not address how he would pay for his plan.

Many of his proposals track ideas advocated by Democrats in recent years.

In addition to calling for making preschool available to all children, starting with those in the poorest areas, Mr. Edwards said he would support local partnerships to promote better health care and child care for young children. He said the federal government should help states retain new teachers, many of whom leave the profession after a few years.

Addressing one of the most criticized aspects of the No Child Left Behind law, he said he would overhaul the approach to standardized testing as a means of tracking the progress of students and schools.

Rather than what his campaign called “cheap standardized tests,” Mr. Edwards’s plan would develop “higher-quality assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, and projects and experiments.”

Mr. Edwards made his education proposal at the end of a week in which his campaign expressed frustration with the attention being paid to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care plan.

At a forum in Davenport, Iowa, on Thursday night, attended by five of the top Democratic candidates, Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton both noted their health care plans, but Mr. Edwards fought to remind the audience that he introduced his own health care plan months ago.

In an e-mail message to reporters, Eric Schultz, a spokesman for Mr. Edwards, on Friday morning called Mrs. Clinton’s plan “strikingly similar” to the plan proposed by Mr. Edwards.

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