by David Hursh
No matter whether McCain or Obama wins the election, the incoming president and congress will need to sit down and develop a new federal education policy. Given that congress is very likely to be controlled by the Democrats and even Republicans are dissatisfied with the No Child Left Behind Act, we will be presented with an opportunity to change federal education policies. Therefore, in this blog I would like to begin a discussion of Obama’s and McCain’s policies and how educators might best influence upcoming policy decisions.
Based on a review of their websites, speeches, and analyses (Fairtest, Education Week) McCain’s and Obama’s education proposals differ significantly. McCain continues the Bush administration’s focus on creating educational markets so that schools will compete for students. Furthermore, he wants to further privatize education by funding voucher programs (what he calls “opportunity scholarships”) and “virtual learning communities,” or for-profit on-line courses and schools. He aims to give public funds to private corporations to provide tutoring, test preparation, and home schooling (see www.johnmccain.com).
In contrast, Obama has developed an extensive list of proposals that would substantially transform how we assess students; increase funding for zero-five childhood education; recruit, prepare, retain, and reward teachers; reorganize schools into smaller innovative units; and increase funding for education research and development. He has pledged an additional $30 billion per year for education. (See www.barackobama.com/issues/education.)
However, among the questions to be asked of Obama is his support for charter schools — he wants to double federal aid to charter schools to $400 million per year — and what he specifically means by stating that he wants to reward good teachers. Is he proposing a form of merit pay, and, if so, how would merit be decided?
Moreover, we need to know more about who is advising Obama, who has developed close connections to corporate and political leaders from his work with the Chicago schools. Many of the leaders with whom he is close have pushed a corporate reform agenda. Pauline Lipman, in her book High Stakes Education: Inequality, Globalization, and Urban School Reform and in a chapter co-authored with me in my book, has criticized recent Chicago reforms for exacerbating inequality and creating a dual unequal city. On the other hand, Linda Darling-Hammond, well-known Stanford University professor and contributor to the proposal Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education, has had a more progressive influence on Obama’s policies and has recently written a blog on why educators should support Obama: http://edwize.org/why-educators-should-support-barack-obama.
While other issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic crisis created by Wall Street, push debates about education to the side, we need to discuss and push for reforms that make sense to us as educators. Furthermore, the recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll shows that the tide has turned against NCLB, high-stakes standardized testing, and the increasing centralization of power in state capitals and in Washington DC. It’s time that educators and the public work together to make sensible education policy.