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What to watch for at tonight's Teachers College debate

Our events section is causing some hard choices this week. Tonight there’s a reception for city charter school leaders (starting now!) and also a live debate at Teachers College between Obama and McCain education advisers. For the record, I’m going to hit the charter school happy hour and catch the debate on iTunes.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for at the debate: How will Linda Darling-Hammond, the Stanford professor who is advising Obama, represent his education position?

Darling-Hammond is at the center of disagreements over testing and No Child Left Behind in Obama’s inner circle. In the past, when representing Obama’s education positions, she has offered ideas friendly to the old Democratic guard, especially teachers unions. Guest-blogging at the United Federation of Teachers’ Edwize, on the subject of “Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama,” Darling-Hammond promoted Obama’s support for more resources to schools, his willingness to work with teachers unions rather than against them, and his support for a broader approach including health and welfare programs.

Meanwhile, guest-blogging at the new-guard, reform-minded Eduwonk blog, other Obama advisers Jon Schnur and Mike Johnston promoted a very different agenda, including charter schools, new performance pay systems to replace the old seniority-based career ladders, and parental responsibility.

Asked to explain the differences on the record, the advisers always say that there is not a war going on and that Obama’s decision to solicit a diversity of opinions is a good thing. But there is of course the question of what decisions he will make if elected president.

So what I will be looking for tonight is, how will Darling-Hammond communicate Obama’s agenda? In the final presidential debate, when John McCain pushed Obama on the charter school issue, suggesting that he is more serious about reforming America’s schools, Obama pushed back, declaring that he does not follow the teachers union on every matter and saying that he favors the explosive steps Michelle Rhee is taking in Washington D.C.

When McCain’s adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, pushes Darling-Hammond, how will she respond?

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