Monday, October 12, 2009

Capuano stronger on education

I was thrilled to recently learn that Representative Capuano had voted against George W. Bush's attempt at education policy, the No Child Left Behind law back in 2001. Capuano became one of only 45 representatives to stand against this law. On the heels of becoming one of only 2 representatives to vote "present" on a motion to "Support Charter Schools Week" in 2001, Capuano really had his priorities straight back then.

His explanation last month for the 2001 vote is reported in the Globe:

Capuano and other critics say the metrics are unfair and unfunded.

"I voted against it, because there was no money in there for you guys to do the things we were telling you to do," he said, prompting enthusiastic applause.

I was impressed with Capuano's prescience, and was ready to firmly throw in with him. I was looking forward to reading his remarks in the Congressional Record about the law, only the find...nothing. While I am disappointed that he remained mute on the House floor during the debate, I cannot question Capuano's understanding of education on this bill, given his 2001 op-ed piece in the Globe which showed his understanding of the nature of this law:

The president promises substance and accountability. He proposes to measure a school's success through annual testing of all students, Grades 3 through 8, in math and reading. But what will his high-stakes tests really accomplish?

Such tests force schools to drill students in test-taking strategies and emphasize rote memorization. Less time is available to teach children to read, write, and calculate. Less time is available to teach them to think critically, to ask questions and seek answers. Is this the education we really want?

Reading further, you learn that the president would permit any student from a school that tests poorly to take $1,500 of Title I funding out of the failing school and transfer it to another school. ... This would accelerate the downward spiral and leave those who remain significantly worse off: 36 subsidized, 414 harmed.


What about the private schools that would receive Title I funds? Must they offer classes for special needs children? Can they demand religious conversion? Who will review their curriculum? We already know they won't be held accountable - the president's plan exempts private schools from his high-stakes testing.

And what about justice? Even if we exclude schools that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or gender, no private school accepts every applicant, and all can expel at will. So who remains in public schools? Children with disabilities, children with developmental problems, children from families where homework is not checked. The neediest and most troubled children - those who most need our help and cost the most to educate - will not disappear. Maybe President Bush should call his proposal "Leave some children behind."

This is frankly an article that President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Governor Patrick should be forced to read. Capuano understands not only the fiscally debilitating implications of the bill on schools, but the sheer injustice of private/charter/religious receiving a full helping of public education funding with very little of the attendant responsibilities. Let me be clear: I am not ready to see Rep. Capuano as a leader on education issues: he's been rather silent in Congress on education. It's a lot to take a person on faith based on very few votes. However, if the Senate finds itself needing a leader to emerge on this issue, I think and hope that Senators Begich and Capuano are the best hope for a smart policy.

I came into this race leaning toward Martha Coakley. However, her issues page remains silent on education, and a follow-up inquiry elicited this response:

In the next few weeks, the Attorney General's position on education will be posted on her website.
I can't help thinking that the primary election will be over "in the next few weeks". Right now, it looks as if she's ducking the issue. On education, Capuano is clearly emerging as the more progressive candidate on education. While I am still uneasy about what his attack mentality, and refusal to enter the race without permission from the Kennedy family say about his ideas of leadership, Capuano's grasp of education issues is heartening.

NCLB is about to blow up, as the stated goal of making every child magically proficient in reading and math by 2014 hits reality. The US Senate will be part of the reaction to reality, and on that vote I'd rather have a strong, knowledgeable Senator such as Michael Capuano than someone measuring the winds.

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