Ok, so, what do these three men have in common? Apparently, they’re all on the same page about one thing: education reform.
The trio is teaming up for a tour of cities across America in an effort to bring attention to the great need for public education reform in our country and to encourage all community members to become involved in the issue. The tour starts this fall and has scheduled stops in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Baltimore.
Now, you may be asking, “Why these guys? What do they have to do with education?”
Well, Arne Duncan is the easiest answer, as he is the Obama administration’s Secretary of Education. It’s his job to tout education reform. Rev. Al Sharpton and his civil rights organization, National Action Network, have long been concerned about the inequalities present in our school system. Rev. Sharpton believes that everyone should have an equal opportunity to quality education. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich frequently talks about the need for education reform, especially in the areas of math and science. He often brings attention to several reports (“A Nation at Risk” 1983, Hart-Rudman Commission National Security Report 2001) that say America’s educational system is a national security threat. And, what do ya know, Mr. Gingrich used to be a college teacher.
So, three very different people can agree on the need for education reform in America. How wonderful! We’re all going to come together on this issue! We’re going to reform education! How? Well, at this point, we’ll have to ask the bartender for the punchline.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we had to make our choice for president based only on the candidates’ written views, proposals, and voting records, without ever hearing them speak, seeing what they look like, or being bombarded by attack ads and media opinions? If that were the case, it seems that the presidential race would solely be about the issues and how the candidates’ views fall in line with our own.
Election Day is right around the corner, and with all of the media talk flying around and causing distractions, it can be difficult for everyday Americans to focus on the real issues facing the 2008 presidential race. One of these issues is education. While it may not come up as often as the economy, the Iraq war, or healthcare, education is still an important issue because it truly affects every American. Some of the major topics concerning education include the following:
Charter schools: These schools are privately-run, but publicly-funded. What, exactly, does this mean? In a nutshell, charter schools receive government funds, but don’t have all of the rules that normal public schools do. Some believe this can make for better-quality education; others think just the opposite.
Federal funding: In other words, the Department of Education. Although state and local governments are in charge of most education spending, the DOE supplies the federal funding. Where schools get their funding and what amount they receive has become a major concern to some.
No Child Left Behind: Who hasn’t heard of this law, which calls for high standards and testing-accountability for all schools and all children? Needless to say, while some support the “idea” behind this law, most agree that there are major problems with it.
Teacher testing and merit pay: States are in charge of setting requirements for certifying teachers, which usually include passing a standardized test. Opponents of standardized tests feel that test results can be biased and discouraging; therefore, other ways to certify teachers need to be explored. Merit pay is the idea of paying teachers an increased amount based on their proven performance in the classroom. But, the question is, how do we choose to measure a teacher’s performance?
Vouchers: Instead of families having to send their children to a specific public school based on their geographical location, vouchers are like coupons that give parents a choice and let them decide which school they want their children to attend. Some believe this will increase school competition, thereby forcing failing schools to improve.
So, what are the candidates’ positions on these educational issues? We dug past the controversies of the hour to find out and offer a quick summary of the candidates’ plans and voting records in the three related posts that follow.
If you’ve been checking John McCain’s website often, you may have noticed that an education section did not appear until recently. (Does this mean that education is not on the top of this candidate’s list of priorities?) A press release on McCain’s website, dated July 16, 2008, lays out his general views on education. The following are some of McCain’s main educational focuses:
- School choice: McCain’s main concern about education involves school choice (i.e., vouchers—though that word does not appear on the site). He firmly believes that parents should be able to send their children to whatever school they choose. If schools are failing, students shouldn’t be forced to attend those schools.
- No Child Left Behind: McCain believes that we should learn a lesson from No Child Left Behind, and improve and build upon the plan.
- Online education: McCain is a strong supporter of “virtual learning.” He aims to put $500 million (of current funds) towards building “virtual schools,” by offering $250 million as grants for states to provide more online education opportunities to students, and $250 million in scholarships for students to take online courses or tutoring.
- Federal funding: McCain addresses Title II funding (presumably from either the Higher Education Act or NCLB) that would be used to recruit high-quality teachers to underperforming schools, and to be put directly at school-level so principals can obtain the resources their schools need.
- Early education: The most recent section added to McCain’s website (September 2008) offers explanations about the importance of making sure every child enters school “ready to learn.” McCain wants to improve already-existing early childhood programs by creating “Head Start Centers of Excellence,” and ensuring that all children have access to these programs.
- Higher education: Another press release on McCain’s website—this one dated August 14, 2008—states his concerns for higher education. His main idea involves simplifying tax benefits, federal financial aid, and lending programs so that more eligible families and students will understand and use them. He will also support university research by eliminating earmarks.
[Heard a lot of talk about earmarks lately? Earmarks, as defined by the Congressional Research Service, are “Provisions associated with legislation (appropriations or general legislation) that specify certain congressional spending priorities or in revenue bills that apply to a very limited number of individuals or entities. Earmarks may appear in either the legislative text or report language (committee reports accompanying reported bills and joint explanatory statement accompanying a conference report).”]
Overall, McCain’s website appears to offer more words and beliefs about education than actual plans and solutions, but please check out the education section of his website and judge for yourself.
If you want to move on push the picture
Barack Obama wants to make it very clear where he stands on educational issues, which might explain the 17+ pages that his website offers to outline his views and goals. Obama’s website goes into great detail about actual plans—including funding explanations—that are based on statistics and research.
Early Childhood Education
Obama’s passion for education revolves mainly around early education—really early education that begins at birth. He has developed a “Zero to Five” plan that would help both children and their parents by investing $10 billion to do the following:
- Create Early Learning Challenge Grants
- Increase Early Head Start and Head Start programs
- Make sure all children are able to attend preschool
- Create a Presidential Early Learning Council to reach across federal, state, and local levels
- Expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
- Increase funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant Program to help low-income families afford child care and to set higher standards for child caregivers
Obama firmly believes that No Child Left Behind, while having a reputable goal, has been a failure. In order to improve America’s educational system, Obama plans to do the following:
- Supply $200 million in grants to help schools provide additional learning time (outside normal school hours) for students who need it
- Reduce dropout rates by developing programs that identify and help students most at-risk of dropping out (with a focus on grades 5-8)
- Support pay and time for teachers to collaborate and develop curriculum together, combining their experiences and creating better teaching environments
- Expand summer learning programs, such as the STEP UP plan for disadvantaged students
- Support college outreach programs like GEAR UP, TRIO, and Upward Bound, which promote college to young people who may not otherwise consider it
- Keep schools safer by promoting “Positive Behavior Support” programs using No Child Left Behind funds
Since teachers are the most important component of a successful education, Obama believes we need to properly “recruit, prepare, retain, and reward” our teachers. To do this, Obama plans to:
- Expand Teaching Service Scholarships to train high-quality teachers who agree to teach in a high-demand location or field (specifically math and science)
- Require all education programs to be accredited, similar to many other professional programs
- Reform current certification processes to evaluate potential teachers’ actual teaching abilities, rather than just their knowledge of basic skills
- Provide $100 million to create Professional Development Schools, which, much like “teaching hospitals,” would train teachers onsite in a classroom
- Offer $1 billion to create mentoring programs to help new teachers stay in the field
- Create a Career Ladder Incentive for veteran teachers to receive higher compensation by mentoring beginning teachers
Obama believes that everyone should have access to higher education. To increase college enrollment, Obama would make college more attainable and affordable by:
- Making the financial aid process super easy by eliminating the FAFSA altogether and simply using tax information to evaluate students’ eligibility
- Creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit to offer the first $4000 of college tuition to be covered
- Offering $25 million for states to create Early Assessment Programs to prepare high school students for college
- Increasing the Pell Grant to $5,400 by 2012
- Creating a Community College Partnership Program to offer grants to community colleges for improving and expanding their programs
- Getting rid of the private loan programs to save taxpayers money
Obama has a lot of numbers in his plans, but he also knows we can’t solve problems simply by increasing funding. Money has to be put towards real solutions and programs that work. While his educational plans will cost about $18 billion, he states where this money will come from in the last paragraph of his Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education—the savings from his plan to cut wasteful spending (basically by reducing earmarks and reforming erroneous federal spending).
“Investing in what works”
By learning from programs that have worked in certain states, and by analyzing research and statistics, Obama has come up with a detailed plan of action to reform education. Obama’s plans also support further educational research in order to measure effectiveness of new programs and adjust for the future. This quote from his Plan for Lifetime Success Through Educationexplains the importance of research:
“We currently make inadequate investments into researching and developing better educational tools and methods. While we spend roughly $400 billion annually in this country on public education, we spend less than seven tenths of one percent of that—$260 million—figuring out what actually works. By comparison, the Department of Defense spends roughly ten percent of its annual budget on research and development. And the National Institute for Health spends roughly 100 times the amount we spend on educational [research and development]. Those investments are what give America the most advanced military and medical systems in the world.”
So, if we invest more in educational research, research shows we’d have a better educational system, no?
- In 2001, McCain co-sponsored a bill that would give undocumented students access to higher education. According to the bill, students who finish high school and two years of college could become legal residents. Now, McCain supports legislation that would put an end to illegal immigration and citizenship loopholes.
- McCain has supported voucher programs in Washington, D.C., as well as an amendment giving $1.8 billion per year to another voucher program, paid for by doing away with subsidies for ethanol, oil, gas, and sugar.
- McCain has supported tax breaks for charter schools, and favors private tutoring over decreasing class sizes.
- McCain voted for No Child Left Behind, though he now says there are problems with it, mostly involving the testing of students with disabilities and non-English speaking students.
- McCain did not vote on the bill that would decrease interest on student loans and increase Pell Grants to $5,400 by 2012, though it is said he supports these ideas.
- Obama was not in office to vote for No Child Left Behind, but he has stated many times that he believes the program has failed.
- Obama co-sponsored legislation to increase Pell Grants to $5,400 by 2012 and decrease student loan interest rates to 3.4%. However, he missed the final vote.
- Obama has proposed bills to expand summer reading programs and his STEP UP program.
- Obama authored legislation to create Teacher Residency Programs that train teachers to work in high-need areas.
- In the Illinois State Senate, Obama helped create the Illinois Early Learning Council, which started the program Preschool for All.
McCain’s views differ from that of the National Education Association (NEA) on most issues. For example, McCain supports private school vouchers, opposes smaller class sizes, opposes increasing federal education funding, opposes education employees’ rights to organize, and opposes protecting women from pay discrimination (Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act). The NEA takes the opposite stance on these issues, as does Barack Obama. Obama’s views on major education issues are greatly in line with those of the NEA. (See a comparison chart.)
Both candidates believe the following:
- Parents and teachers are the two most important factors in a child’s education.
- No Child Left Behind needs to be “fixed.”
- Higher education needs to be more affordable and attainable by simplifying the financial aid process and reforming lending programs.
- There is a great need for high-quality teachers, especially in underperforming school systems.
Whichever side you support and whichever issues concern you most, make your voice heard and VOTE.