GEORGE W. BUSH
Platform: Signed into law on January 8, 2003, the No Child Left Behind Act remains the cornerstone of President Bush's education policy. Among the legislation's many components is the requirement that schools not meeting "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years develop an improvement plan and offer students the option to transfer to a higher-performing public school or receive supplemental services such as after-school tutoring. Other initiatives include the Reading First program aimed at improving literacy in grades K-3, new qualification provisions for teachers, and funding for "high-quality" professional development. According to the Bush-Cheney '04 Web site, "Under President Bush's leadership federal funding for education has increased 59.8 percent from 2000 to 2003."
What He Says about Kerry: The Bush camp asserts that Kerry holds "contradicting positions on education reform"-after all, he voted to authorize NCLB in the first place. They dispute Kerry's charge that NCLB is underfunded, pointing to a budget increase from $17.3 billion in 2001 to $24.7 billion in 2004.
Supporter Snapshot: John Bailey, former director of educational technology, U.S. Department of Education; Bill Brock, chairman of Bridges Learning Systems and former labor secretary; Kathy Cox, Georgia state superintendent of schools.
JOHN F. KERRY
Platform: Senator Kerry's proposed Education Trust Fund would "guarantee the federal government meets its obligation to fully fund education priorities" by requiring all new mandates Congress authorizes be automatically funded by law. When it comes to assessing student and school performance under NCLB, Kerry says he wants the government to consider other indicators-such as graduation rates, teacher attendance, student attendance, and parental satisfaction-in addition to test scores. He's stated he will provide incentives for states, districts, and schools that implement high standards, and offer a salary boost up to $5,000 to teachers in underperforming schools and hard-to-staff content areas such as math and science.
What He Says about Bush: Kerry criticizes Bush for not providing the critical resources schools, districts, and states need to implement NCLB because he's underfunded education by $26.6 billion. The Senator also claims the administration hasn't enforced graduation provisions outlined in NCLB.
Supporter Snapshot: American Federation of Teachers; California School Employees Association; Georgia Association of Educators; National Education Association; and other state-based education labor unions.
Amy Poftak is executive editor of Technology & Learning.
Q&A: Inside Politics with David Byer
Interview by Amy Poftak
The president of the nonpartisan National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training gives us his expert analysis on the candidates.
Q. We already know something about Bush's stance on education technology because of No Child Left Behind. What about Kerry?
A. Kerry's campaign hasn't made any specific pronouncements just yet, but historically he's been a strong supporter of ed tech. For example, as head of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee in the late 90s he organized two major Capitol Hill events showcasing the uses of technology in learning. He's always understood the value of technology in education. How that translates into a cogent policy response is not clear yet.
Q. How would you characterize Kerry's approach to assessment compared to Bush's?
A. Kerry's calling for us to look at a whole range of measures that are both inputs-for instance, are basic resource needs being provided? Are kids graduating from school?-and outputs-did they pass the test? Are they meeting standards? He's not saying roll back NCLB. He's saying there should be reasonable expectations that account for a balance of input and output measures. The Bush administration, on the other hand, tends to believe the inputs will take care of themselves if we focus on outcomes. They want schools to set outcomes before they start prescribing inputs.
Q. Is it fair to say Bush is more focused on using technology for assessment and accountability purposes than Kerry?
A. It's not as black and white as saying "Kerry believes the best use of technology is in curriculum, while Bush believes it's in testing." Bush came into office understanding technology has a lot of promise, which is why his administration has aggressively pursued revising the National Education Technology Plan.
Q. In what ways are they fundamentally opposed?
A. The differences aren't as stark as you would think. The larger educational debate is about NCLB, and is it working the way it was intended when it passed. Kerry is calling for more resources to leverage NCLB. Bush is saying the resources are there, but we need to repurpose them so they're used better.
Q. Both candidates are making various funding claims. Who comes closest to the truth?
A. By the time money is slotted into school budgets, it's hard to pinpoint if it's from state, federal, or local sources. That said, the National Council of State Legislatures reported that prior to NCLB, approximately 32 percent of schools were affected by Washington's rules and federal spending represented 7 percent of the total amount spent on education. After NCLB, virtually all schools were impacted by federal rules and spending increased to 8 percent.
So when the Bush administration says it has spent more money on education, it's right. But were the amounts increased in proportion to the numbers of schools and students affected? That's where Kerry would say, "No way."
NCTET, a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports the effective use of technology to improve education and training in America, organizes policy briefings, conducts seminars, and recognizes exemplary technology leadership.
Which contender will make the best education president? A recent T&L QuickPoll found 66 percent of readers favored Kerry, while 34 percent supported Bush.* Here's a sampling of comments we received.
"John Kerry would make the best education president. He has demonstrated the flexibility of mind to recognize and learn from mistakes. George Bush shows little evidence of deep curiosity about the social or scientific world, across the United States, or across the world. Nor has he demonstrated an interest in life-long learning."
"President Bush has got us into NCLB with no funds and no foreseeable help in the future."
"Just because you say something is true doesn't mean it really is. A lot of children are going to be in classrooms with twice as many children, and many programs such as art and music have been cut to feed the monster called NCLB. John Kerry would not tolerate this madness!"
"Kerry and the rest of the radical left are in bed with the teachers' unions, who, in my opinion, created the education catastrophe. Throwing more money at a broken educational system and giving even more power to the educrats will only give us more of the same. Competition, choice, and free markets are the only hope for government education..."
"Kerry flip-flops on issues to the point that there is no way anyone but God could predict what kind of president he would be."
*Based on 145 responses.