Schools: Obama stresses more investment, McCain parental choice
A growing chorus of business and education-reform advocates are hoping the next president will create a ‘Sputnik moment’ for education.
(Page 2 of 3)
“[Obama] has really been a champion for investment in our kids ... but at the same time pushing hard on accountability, on standards, on parental choice in a way that strengthens public education,” Jonathan Schnur, an adviser to Obama, said at the Aspen Institute’s recent national education summit in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
One of Obama’s criticisms of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is that it has asked schools to achieve vastly more without delivering the resources promised when it passed with bipartisan support in 2001. His campaign criticizes McCain for planning to hold education spending even and just reallocate the dollars. Obama proposes to spend an additional $19 billion on his pre-K-12 proposals by using money from cuts in other parts of the federal budget.
Both candidates have called attention to the need for high-quality teaching, particularly in underperforming schools. McCain wants to give states incentives to recruit teachers from among the top 25 percent of college graduates. Obama’s education plan is longer and more detailed than McCain’s, including details on recruiting, training, and retaining teachers. One proposal would pay for teacher education for those willing to work four years in a hard-to-staff location or field, such as special education.
The two candidates also share a hesitancy to offer much detail about how they would handle the key education item come January: the long overdue reauthorization of NCLB. “They’re doing this dance of talking about education without talking about No Child Left Behind,” says Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group in Washington that supports standards and school choice. “A lot of the country hates No Child Left Behind ... and yet the principles within the law around accountability and transparency both candidates want to embrace, because they want to show they are reformers.”
Both campaigns have praised the goals of NCLB and suggested they would make changes to it, such as testing the individual gains of students rather than relying on group averages. But “the guts of it, test-based accountability, that’s likely to stay,” says Patrick McGuinn, a political scientist at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
The law has prompted splits within each party. Among Republicans, one camp wants to continue NCLB’s momentum, while another says control should be returned to states and local school districts. A key education adviser to McCain, former Arizona schools superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, has said McCain will champion assessment and federal accountability. While education circles debate how to even out vastly different state standards, she said during last week’s Washington summit, “what would concern me is if we take our eye off the improvement of the kids in the classroom today. We’ve got data right now [showing low achievement].”