by Max Brantley
Mike Huckabee appeared before the National Education Association convention today, the only Republican to accept the invitation. Smart move. From the sounds of the NEA news release, on the jump, he cracked a joke and then several things that were well received.
NEA NEWS RELEASE
Obama, Huckabee, Biden Say Children Are More Than Test Scores
Presidential candidates pledge to make quality public schools, and NCLB reform, key election issues
PHILADELPHIA—If lawmakers demand accountability from public schools, they need to provide educators with the resources and respect they need to get the job done. Three presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican, pledged to more than 9,000 educators Thursday that they would reform No Child Left Behind and make quality public education a national priority if elected.
"We've heard from eight presidential candidates, of different backgrounds and political parties, and our 3.2 million members are pleased to hear that they're all on the same page on critical public education issues,” said Reg Weaver, NEA president. "Quality public schools must be a national priority, regardless of party politics.”
Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee and Joe Biden addressed more than 9,000 school employees at the National Education Association's Representative Assembly, one of the largest democratic decision-making bodies in the world. The delegates represent NEA members around the country. A major topic at the Representative Assembly has been No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration's controversial education reform program up for congressional reauthorization this year.
Politicians often "praise educators in speeches and photo ops, but abandon them when it comes to providing the resources they need to do the job,” Obama said. "There's no better example of this than the law that has become one of the emptiest slogans in the history of politics: No Child Left Behind.”
Congress has "left the money behind,” Obama said. If lawmakers don't provide necessary funds, and use the reauthorization process to move the law away from heavy-handed penalties and an overwhelming emphasis on testing, Obama pledged to make those changes as president. He also promised to invest in early childhood education, support programs to bring qualified teachers to high-need urban and rural schools, and advocate for across-the-board pay increases for educators.
Mike Huckabee, the first Republican presidential candidate to accept NEA's invitation to address the Representative Assembly, said he might look "as out of place as Michael Moore at the NRA convention,” but education is an issue that must cut across party lines. The presidential debates have focused heavily on national security, he said, but "there is another issue of national security, and it is the education of our children.”
Heavy emphasis on testing has led to a narrowing of school curriculums, and Huckabee said this contributes to the national dropout crisis: students need access to subjects that excite them. "Every student in the United States of America should not be denied the opportunity and the obligation to study music and art as part of his or her education,” he said. "We're leaving a lot of kids' talents behind by denying them the opportunity to experience their creative self.”
Joe Biden said the United States must attract 100,000 new teachers into America's classrooms, and provide them with the competitive salaries and respect needed to keep them there. He emphasized the importance of early childhood education, reduced class sizes and ensuring that all students have access to an affordable college education.
Biden said lawmakers could provide money for his top domestic priority—public education—by ending the war in Iraq, which costs about $100 billion a year, and rolling back the Bush administration's tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, which costs about $85 billion. "We know what we need to do, and it's not No Child Left Behind,” Biden said. "We have to stop focusing on just test scores.”