In today’s long Washington Post profile of Senator John Kerry the writer mentions his 1998 speech calling for reforming teacher “tenure” in elementary and secondary schools but then notes that, “he [Kerry] took on a premier Democratic interest group in 1998 — teachers unions — in a speech calling for “an end to tenure as we know it.” (He said nothing about tenure in this year’s primaries.)”
That’s true, but incomplete. In May, as the campaign turned toward substance Kerry offered a teacher quality proposal that included “tenure” reform. Had the primaries been more about ideas than anger this might be a fair charge, but alas, they were not.
On National Review Online Chester Finn says that the Gore – Lieberman plan was gutsier than the current Kerry plan (though, inexplicably, at the time Finn characterized the Gore – Lieberman proposals as a, “vast expansion of Uncle Sam’s involvement in the country’s schools” and a “Potomac power grab” and charged that they were “overlooking reality”).
Finn is right that education policywise the 2004 race is a bit of a snoozer but that’s because both candidates are hamstrung by the fact that there was bipartisan action on education early in Bush’s term. Now, going forward, what voters should look for is not soaring rhetoric or ridiculous promises but rather which candidate is going to actually do more to help realize the ambitious achievement gap closing goals put forward by No Child Left Behind.
On that score, Eduwonk has noted that President Bush’s pantry seems to be a little empty these days while Kerry has offered good, albeit not sexy, ideas like improving teacher quality and doing something about the graduation rate problem. That’s fine though, the rules of the game are now in place and for the most part it’s going to be won by gaining a couple of yards in a cloud of dust, not Hail Mary passes.