(This is the second of my series of posts about the issue of education in the upcoming presidential election, in response to the challenge issued by Ronni Bennett in her blog, Time Goes By.)
Anyone who follows the news knows that environmental and energy issues are in the forefront of today’s politics. I can’t help wonder how different things might be today if those leaders who screwed up these two survival necessities had been exposed to a different kind of education, one in which critical thinking, creative discovery, complex problem solving, and honest communication had been at the core. These are the skills that all people need to become all they can be, for themselves and for their communities. The educational challenge is one of developing human capital.
A July 29 New York Times Opinion piece by David Brooks begins with this question:
Why did the United States become the leading economic power of the 20th century? The best short answer is that a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom.
Brooks points to two research efforts that show that the skills slowdown is the biggest issue facing the country. and that It’s not globalization or immigration or computers per se that widen inequality. It’s the skills gap. Boosting educational attainment at the bottom is more promising than trying to reorganize the global economy.
Brooks goes onto say
…. it’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research. …….. McCain’s policies seem largely oblivious to these findings. There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies.
…..McCain ….. has yet to move his discussion of education from conservative generalities to specific policy proposals. Sure, McCain nods toward introducing “competition” in public schooling and, like every national politician, he has become a proponent of educational “accountability.” But generally, McCain’s pronouncements on education seem calculated to buttress other aspects of his agenda, such as privatization of public services, opposition to abortion rights, and even support for immigration reform.
Since McCain first advocated vouchers, a growing body of research has confirmed that they do not improve students’ academic performance or help close the achievement gap between affluent white children and poor children of color. Furthermore, the value of the vouchers McCain and other conservatives have proposed — $2,000 — is equal to less than half the average annual tuition at an American private school — $4,689. That means vouchers won’t give poor families many educational options beyond inner-city parochial schools, which are far less expensive and exclusive than secular prep schools focused on ensuring college admission. Voucher programs stack the deck against families who prefer a secular education for their children. In Milwaukee, the site of the largest private-voucher experiment to date, 102 of 120 participating schools are religious-affiliated.
“McCain’s plans have erased any doubts that he would continue the misguided policies of the Bush administration. The spending scheme recently outlined would reportedly save $100 billion, but it doesn’t mention the critical casualties of those cuts: America’s children. The move would take away even more resources from public schools that are already underfunded. Under McCain’s scheme, 4.2 million disadvantaged children would be shortchanged in needed reading and math help due to the shortfall of $10.7 billion between the McCain plan for Title I and what was promised in the No Child Left Behind law.
“McCain’s scheme would also shortchange states and schools by $12.5 billion by reducing services to 3.6 million children with disabilities. Like President Bush, who proposed $14.2 billion less than what Congress provided for education during his presidency, McCain’s scheme has shown he is quite willing to mortgage our children’s future.
from here, quoting Sen. John McCain’s education adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan:
In defending McCain’s perceived lack of interest in education, Keegan said that it wasn’t because the candidate is not passionate—but because he believes a “renaissance” in education is possible and that his plan will be more meaningful, and more at odds with the current public education system. (Update: Margaret Spellings declared that education was not McCain’s passion.)
“It’s very easy to write a detailed program for an old system,” Keegan said in criticizing Sen. Barack Obama’s plan, which has been on his Web site for months.
As far as McCain’s education plan to be unveiled in the fall, Keegan said it will focus on standards, accountability, delivering information on these issues to the public, and more direct intervention. He will “insist” on giving principals the power to use differential pay for teachers. And, expect the issue of international benchmarking to appear in his plan, too, she said. wants to move away from sanctions and instead use tutoring and public school choice as “opportunities” for children and families rather than as punishments for schools. And perhaps more importantly, he wants to make the aid available to families immediately without waiting two or three years. And maintaining the current sanction of restructuring schools at five years if they are failing to meet adequate yearly progress isn’t a priority for him, either. In addition, McCain will work more closely with governors to come up with other options for addressing failing schools, she said.
Obama’s positions on education are very different from McCain’s:
Speaking by satellite to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama slammed his opponent John McCain for voting against education funding.
“He voted against increased funding for No Child Left Behind to preserve billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans – tax breaks he wants to extend without saying how he’d pay for them. He voted against increasing funds for Head Start, and Pell Grants, and the hiring of 100,000 new teachers again and again and again,” Obama said.
He accused McCain of only wanting to recycle old Republican ideas, “In fact, his only proposal seems to be recycling tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice. Now, I’ve been a proponent of public school choice throughout my career. I applaud AFT for your leadership in representing charter school teachers and support staff all across this country, and for even operating your own charters in New York. Because we know well-designed public charter schools have a lot to offer, and I’ve actually helped pass legislation to expand them. But what I do oppose is using public money for private school vouchers.”
Obama also discussed merit pay for teachers, “And when our educators succeed, I won’t just talk about how great they are; I will reward them for it. Under my plan, districts will be able to give teachers who mentor, or teach in underserved areas, or take on added responsibilities, or learn new skills to serve students better,
In sharp contrast to McCain’s haphazard thoughts and non-policies on education, Barack Obama has spelled out his well-thought out plan for putting American education on the road to becoming what it should be: a system of helping all children and adults become all they are capable of being. It’s all there, on his website, in red, white, and blue, with financial capital supporting human capital.
Obama summed it up here:
A truly historic commitment to education – a real commitment – will require new resources and new reforms. It will require a willingness to break free from the same debates that Washington has been engaged in for decades – Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more accountability. And most of all, it will take a President who is honest about the challenges we face – who doesn’t just tell everyone what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.
I am running to be that President. And that’s why I’m proposing a comprehensive plan to give every American child the chance to receive the best education America has to offer – from the moment they’re born to the day they graduate college. As President, I will put the full resources of the federal government behind this plan. But to make it a reality, I will also ask more of teachers and principals; parents and students; schools and communities.