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In major speech, Obama forges a third path in education policy

In a major address about education yesterday in Ohio, Barack Obama provided more detail about his nearly year-old education platform and took aim at his opponent’s education policies, saying, “John McCain doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand that our success as a nation depends on our success in education. I do.”

In the course of the lengthy speech, Obama promised to double federal funding for charter schools; invest in early-childhood education; give low-income students access to college-level courses; fund “innovative schools”; increase access to after school, summer school, and extended day programs; recruit and train high-quality teachers; and create a “parent report card” to update families about their children’s progress. He also swore to replace weak teachers, send teams to improve “bad programs,” and shut down unsuccessful charters. All this sounds like an expensive proposition — but Obama notes that it will come at “the cost of just a few days in Iraq.”

On Monday, I said I thought Obama had tipped his hand in favor of the “Bolder, Broader” crowd, but several of the policies he discussed yesterday — support for charter schools, differentiated teacher pay, stringent consequences for weak teachers and failing schools — sounded like they came straight from the Education Equality Project playbook. Over at the American Prospect, Dana Goldstein agrees, noting also that Obama couched his argument in favor of education excellence in the economic language used by Education Equality Project supporters. In fact, the Education Equality Project itself released a brief but positive response to the speech.

Yesterday, Obama acknowledged that he straddles the line in the current debate between the two education reform philosophies, proposing instead a middle path based on common-sense reforms. “Both sides have good ideas that we’ll need to implement if we hope to make the changes our children need,” he said. And he also hinted at a role for the kind of “two-way accountability” we’ve written about before here on GothamSchools, saying, “As president, I will lead a new era of accountability in education. But I don’t just want to hold our teachers accountable. I want you to hold our government accountable. I want you to hold me accountable.” He says he’ll “report back” on schools’ progress annually, although he didn’t mention yesterday how Americans would be able to hold him accountable if they consider the progress insufficient.

Want to read other responses to yesterday’s speech? Just about every blogger has weighed in by now, including skoolboy at eduwonkette, Kevin Carey at the Quick and the Ed, Chester Finn at Flypaper, and the folks at Education Week’s Campaign K-12 blog. For a summary of the political forces at play in the education world this fall, check out Elizabeth Green’s story in today’s Sun.

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