Last night, Teacher's College at Columbia University hosted an education debate between the Obama and McCain campaigns. Lisa Graham Keegan, the former Arizona schools chief and leading voucher proponent, represented McCain. Linda Darling Hammond, the Stanford-based critic of NLCB and Teach For America, represented Obama. You can watch the whole debate here. Hammond has been out on the campaign trail for Obama quite a bit, which is interesting, because I think the candidate's education priorities are actually more moderate than her own. Obama, for example, is enthusiastic about TFA and the experimental public charter schools TFA alumni have spawned.
In any case, while both women nodded toward best practices, standardization, and prioritizing children, there were some truly notable differences in their rhetoric. Hammond spoke about education, including an affordable college education, as a civil right. She focused on the equalization of resources between poor and rich districts. Keegan, who works for a candidate who consistently votes against funding schools, bashed unions and claimed that their demise in New Orleans can be entirely credited with the limited successes there since Hurricane Katrina. As I've written before, that's a reductionist, evidence-free way of viewing education in New Orleans. Here are excerpts from both campaign's closing statements in the debate:
Lisa Graham Keegan: "...Really getting into some of the urban districts that are making huge changes in the way they do business. New York is one, since we are here, New Orleans is another, where they suspended all of their old collective bargaining agreements in the restructuring district because it was urgent. And literally their schools blew away. They had to create something, and the way they are doing that in new districts is creating entirely new ways to envision their job. Their job isn't to create everything and run it. It's to invite in educators to run a school, to think about it entirely differently."
Linda Darling Hammond: "We don't have the capacity to ensure that everyone gets what really is the new civil right - access to high quality education. ... When people say, especially rich people, that money doesn't matter, I don't see them trying to give it up. ... We can't have a two-tier system anymore, where in these concentrated, apartheid-schools where African Americans and Latinos are, the resources are not there to insure that they have a teacher that knows how to teach them to read, write, mathematics. And that means we are going to have to make this kind of very systemic investment in the quality of personnel in the schools and in giving them the kind of schools in which they can teach well."