Monday, August 04, 2008

The One

So far, this is the best ad for displaying the lofty, vacuous campaign rhetoric of Barack Obama,

The Obama campaign said the ad was a "juvenile" attempt to distract from the key issues. That's a ludicrous charge. Any one who says "A light will shine down from somewhere. You will have a light upon you. You will experience an epiphany and you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack." has set himself up as the annointed one and the central issue of the campaign.

Meanwhile, there are some who are making a valiant attempt to make education, not Obama, the a central issue in this election. There are two competing proposals vying for the candidate's attention. Both proposals are from a more liberal political perspective and could potentially divide two key Democrat consituencies, civil-rights leaders and teachers unions.

The first initiative, Education Equality Project, is co-chaired by civil rights leader Al Sharpton and Joe Klein, Chancellor of New York schools. As the name suggests, the group's mission is to bring equity to education and closing the achievement gap, especially Latino and African-American children by calling for teacher accountability and maximizing parental choice. They have outlined ten core principles, number eight spotlights the hypocrisy of policy makers,
"Breaking through those forces requires the rest of us to declare that enough is enough. Our failure to educate our children reflects on all of us. We must call out policymakers who would never send their own children to so many of our public schools but who enthusiastically support policies that entrap other families in such hopeless circumstances."
The Educational Equality Project's proposal has earned the endorsement of notable Democrat and Republican politicians, including John McCain. They plan to be a vocal presence at both the Democrat and Republican national conventions.

The Economic Policy Insitute recently introduced their own education intitiative, A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. Their mission is to broaden the defintion of school beyond formal academics in order to "weaken the link between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement." The group emphasizes the federal government's obligation in addressing a broad spectrum of social issues including: early childhood education, healthcare, and how students spend their time outside of school.
A body of research has shown that much of the achievement gap is rooted in what occurs outside of formal schooling. By and large, low-income students learn as rapidly as more-privileged peers during the hours spent in school. Where they lose ground,though, is in their lack of participation in learning activities during after-school hours and summer vacations. Such findings suggest that policy makers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.
The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education task force also includes both Democrat and Republicans, including one of Obama's key education advisors, Linda Darling-Hammond. However, Obama has not endorsed either proposal.
An adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said the presumptive Democratic nominee agreed with the goal underlying both statements that schools need to improve for all children, but that the candidate didn’t state a preference for one approach or the other.
The proposals are very different, but not stating a preference is probably a good political strategy. If he endorses one over the other then he risks alienating supporters.

Many African-Americans are looking for real choices in education. They aren't likely to move away from Barack Obama, but the educational rift emerging among the left in education policy could be a potental thorn in his side and a real test of his political skills. In the end, Obama may prefer "juvenile" ads comparing him to Moses than "issue" ads comparing policies on education.

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