Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Highest Grade; John Edwards at NEA 2007

Eight presidential candidates (from the Clintons and Obamas to the Dodds, Bidens, Kucinichs, and a lone Republican, Mike Hukabee) spoke at the annual National Educational Association meeting in Philadelphia this past week. It's comforting to hear the eight speeches delivered, as it seems nearly every politician at the conference understands one of the most obvious problems in education: No Child Left Behind doesn't work at the current levels of funding and support it has received under President Bush.

As you can imagine, so many candidates talking about one topic ensures the repetition of a handful of talking points. One candidate stood out, however.

Senator John Edwards connected a wide range of issues with the problems facing American education today. Among these was the continuing problem of poverty in America (a cause that Edwards has devoted years of his professional and political career to solving), an issue that effects the lives of children both in and outside of school.

Edwards stressed that poverty's impact in education could be reduced through measures that would draw skilled teachers to the most needy schools across the country as well as a proposal that would fund new early-education programs. The idea of promoting early-education ties in with Edward's theory of how students from poorer and less fortunate families will slowly fall behind in school because they entered the system with a disadvantage. Putting an emphasis on early-education and making it available to every American child would allow millions of children to have a better chance of experiencing higher education.

Furthermore, Edwards said that if a student were to enter the education system with lower ability than his or her fellow classmates, but was able to achieve a great deal of progress over the course of his or her time in school, that standardized achievement tests such as those so prominent in No Child Left Behind would not reward individual student's progression over time. When a system only looks at the end result of a school career it doesn't see people as people, it sees people as numbers and test scores.

Edward's quote of the night emphasized that point, "A test does not tell us what we need to do help our children to learn. A child is more than a test score."

With a number of candidates saying the right thing, it's hard to pick winner. But Edwards, despite criticism of his own personal spending and actions, is able to connect the issues of the less fortunate to the policies he understands so well. A+

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