Obama, Woolsey, And The Big Choice For Democrats

Two new bills worth watching on the Hill. First, in the Senate Barack Obama (D-IL) has (last month) introduced S. 2441, a forward looking reform solution bill (pdf). The bill would essentially support innovation grants to districts that want to push the envelope on teacher quality, leadership, and creating networks of new schools. Recall that Obama gave a speech last year in which he noted that just railing against No Child Left Behind wasn’t much of an education policy. His bill won’t change the world by itself, but it is a step in the direction of post-NCLB ideas focused on structural changes to make the law’s ambitious goals more attainable.

But it’s hard not to see the juxtaposition of Obama’s bill and rhetoric with a draft bill circulating in the house (pdf) under the sponsorship of Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The Woolsey bill is not all bad, for instance it includes some sensible ideas like more money for states to develop assessments. Yet it’s also a laundry list of ways to rollback key provisions of No Child Left Behind so that a shell of “accountability” exists but there are no real teeth. Its prospects, once it’s introduced, are uncertain and depend some on who wins control of the House in November and how much Democratic NCLB supporter George Miller can push back on it.

The specifics matter less than the politics right now. It’s hard to miss that younger Democrats increasingly think like Obama, signaling an important generational shift. That puts Democrats at something of a crossroads in terms of moving forward or backwards on the education issue and about how the party will be perceived in 2008.

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