- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

Former Sen. John Edwards yesterday outlined to Iowa voters his education initiative to help youngsters prepare for school, to recruit and retain quality teachers and to improve the nation’s schools.

Without talking about a way to pay for his plan, the North Carolina Democrat promised to offer all 4-year-olds access to pre-kindergarten, reduce class sizes and “radically overhaul” President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act by pushing “open-ended essay” tests instead of standardized testing.

Referring to the prestigious U.S. Military Academy, he said he would create a “West Point” for teachers to recruit and train qualified people, with a focus on math and science.

“Teacher quality is lowest in the poorest schools, where good teachers are needed the most,” he said, proposing to reward successful teachers from high-poverty schools with raises up to $15,000 per year.

Mr. Edwards, a self-made millionaire son of a mill worker, said a quality education allowed him to achieve success.

“Every child deserves to have the same chances I had, but today, millions of young people don’t get them,” he said at Brody Middle School in Des Moines.

His plan focused on how to even out school quality for rich and poor students.

“In America today, children who live in the right ZIP code get the best education our country has to offer, while children who live in rural and low-income communities face an uphill battle,” he said, reprising his theme of “Two Americas” — one for the privileged and one for everyone else.

Among the elements of the Edwards plan are increased funding for schools in poor districts, money to build 1,000 new schools across the country and for expansion of existing schools.

Mr. Edwards said he would “provide significant new resources to reduce class sizes” by hiring more teachers, and proposed “richer” tests to measure student progress.

“Fixing our public schools will require more funding, that is critical,” Mr. Edwards said. But “funding alone is not the answer.”

Mr. Edwards voted to authorize the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, but said during his first bid for the White House four years ago that he regretted the decision.

Now, like his Democratic opponents, Mr. Edwards reserves harsh words for the education initiative, saying yesterday that the Bush administration “took a needlessly punitive, arbitrary and harsh approach” to education.

“I will keep the principles that work, and get rid of the rules that don’t,” he said, echoing his Democratic rivals, who are pushing similar school reforms on the campaign trail.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York proposed universal pre-kindergarten four months ago. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has called for expanding early education centers such as Head Start and has talked about the need to improve ailing school structures. He also said he would evaluate teacher pay based on “performance,” a position that drew ire from the largest teachers union.

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