Perusing the platforms

Got the post-convention blues? Miss the fiery speeches, carefully chosen interlude music, and confetti? The Democratic and Republican education platforms are no spit-licked cowlick, sure, but reading them may nonetheless help ease your angst. Or your insomnia.

What do the two parties have to say about education in their 2008 platforms? Not much, it seems, and certainly not about No Child Left Behind. This is par for the course for the Democrats: In their 2004 party platform, they mentioned NCLB just once--that's the case this time, too--and only then to complain that it wasn't working because it wasn't fully funded.

But the Republicans' 2008 shunning of NCLB is quite a change. In 2004, the GOP platform cited that law twelve times; in fact, its education section was titled "No Child Left Behind." This year, however, the Republicans don't mention NCLB even once. Instead, they focus on education as a component of global competitiveness. They talk up policies such as merit pay, and concepts such as higher standards and technology. So do the Democrats.

But despite their similarities, the two parties' education platforms have a vastly different feel. Where the Democrats come across as accommodating, even timid in their policy proposals, and call for national compromise and unity to enact them, the GOP is confrontational and emphasizes the concept of parental choice.

The Democratic outlook on schools is gloomy, yet the platform hesitates to step on any status quo (read: teacher union) toes. For instance, if teachers are still underperforming after they have received "individual help and support," the country "should find a quick and fair way--consistent with due process--to put another teacher in that classroom" (emphasis mine). In similar vein, the Democrats support only those merit-pay plans that are "developed with teachers, not imposed on them."

For their part, Republicans may be avoiding NCLB, but they certainly aren't avoiding their traditional conflict with unions. They write, "School districts must have the authority to recruit, reward and retain the best and brightest teachers, and principals must have the authority to select and assign teachers without regard to collective bargaining agreements." Nor are Republicans backing away from choice (although perhaps their support could be more detailed): "parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child."

It's unclear how the differences in party education platforms will translate from paper to policy, or even whether party platforms matter much nowadays, but one thing's for sure: NCLB is on nobody's good-list.

The Democratic Party platforms: (2004) and (2008)
The Republican Party platforms: (2004) and (2008)

More By Author